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Are Matchmaking Sites the Future?

I just spent a while playing around with a new real estate Web site, Findbuyers.com, launched by Washington-area real estate agent Eldad Moraru. It's a free matchmaking site that invites buyers to enter the specifics about the type of home they seek (the usual condo/house/townhouse, bedrooms/baths and price and location questions). Buyers can then be matched with homes that meet their criteria, and buyer and seller can communicate anonymously from there. It's open to sellers who've already signed with a real estate agent and to those trying a For Sale By Owner, or FSBO, deal.

I can't say the site wowed me with its usefulness. You get more detailed information searching the local multiple listing service through Homesdatabase.com. But I am starting to wonder seriously if non-brokerage, matchmaking sites such as Findbuyers and Zillow might be the template for the future.

Zillow's version of this is the "Make Me Move" feature, which invites homeowners to post a price tag on their home, even if they aren't actively looking to sell. With both of these sites, people are encouraged to browse the entire housing inventory, including homes that are not listed for sale. And they offer a method for the buyer to communicate directly with the owner, who may decide to nibble on that bait. Will this someday replace the current system, based on the multiple listing service? I don't know, but it's starting to look like a credible version of the future. The direct consumer-to-consumer model, without a real estate agent, could appeal to many.

What do you think?


By Elizabeth Razzi  |  May 11, 2009; 4:54 PM ET
Categories:  Buying , Selling , The market  
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Comments

I don't think direct consumer-to-consumer sales will flourish. That type of sale may increase but it will not be the norm. FSBO.com and discount (also known as limited service) brokerages are available for consumers that want to try their hand at marketing their own home with little assistance from an agent/broker. Sites like this are nothing new but few have had significant success.

Zillow is certainly an interesting model but this article seems to ignore the fact that Zillow is still very agent/broker-centric. They offer a lot of enticing features to the consumer but the brokers/agents are still Zillow's source of revenue. (Aren't Zillow's primary source of listings from brokers and agents?)

There are too many pitfalls and chasms that consumers are uncomfortable with that an agent or broker help to avoid. For many, home buying is too complicated, done too infrequently and too great an expense for many consumers to experience without help. Plus varying state laws and regulations regarding real estate only serve to complicate the process.

That being said, the job of the agent/broker is shifting. It's no longer the job of agents to find the home (sites like Trulia, Zillow or broker operated IDX sites readily offer the data). It's the job of the agent to lead and assist the consumer through the rest of the process. This may be further facilitated through the operation of Virtual Office Websites (VOWs) that enable the agent/broker to conduct their business and further offer their services online. The effect of VOWs on the industry has yet to play out.

Also, data integrity issues shouldn't be ignored. Listings entered by agents/brokers are more reliable and usually more up-to-date. Sites like Zillow are also less comprehensive. They usually have fewer listings than broker or MLS operated sites. Isn't a consumer better off with more complete and comprehensive data?

Brian Davis
www.BestHomePro.com

Posted by: briandavis1 | May 12, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I have no doubt that just as the web has made it easier for buyers to find sellers directly via the likes of Zillow.com, Trulia.com and Realtor.com that it will replicate through sites such as NationalBLS.com (Buyer Listing Service) and Findbuyers.com to allow sellers to find buyers directly and more easily.
Greater transparency in the market should be welcomed as it will drive up transaction volume and ultimately drive down the cost of a transaction. NationalBLS.com (with which I am involved) promotes the use of reverse offers to allow sellers to get proactive and help buyers find great deals but still promotes the use of a real estate agent. Undoubtedly this technology will further change the role of the agent and broker but I do not think it threatens their position over all.
Real estate matchmaking sites will follow the lead of online dating. There are undoubtedly going to be many variations from Match.com to Eharmony.com but like online dating, I think these are simply search optimization tools to point you in the right direction rather than to guarantee a marriage.
I also agree that the cart will get ahead of the horse allowing buyers to state an interest on a property before it is even on the market to tempt people to sell. This is no bad thing and again will drive up transaction volume for the benefit of everyone. Simply accept that every house in the country is for sale, at a price.
The role of the agent is changing for the better, the consumer wants everything in real time and fast. Instead of spending countless weekends touring open houses they want to see houses in detail online and then visit a short list in person.
Good agents will adapt to the fact that they no longer add huge value in finding the property, they add value in closing the deal on acceptable terms quickly and cleanly. Like any industry, good agents will be worth their weight in gold and not afraid to embrace new technology as demanded by clients. There are countless examples where a consumer could do something themselves but chooses to pay a professional to help and on a transaction as large as a house I think the modern agent is pretty safe.

Posted by: DuncanLogan | May 12, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

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