Pink or Green. Innovation or Valuable.

An NPR interview this summer caught my attention. The guests asserted we call just about anything innovative. As an example they contrasted the launch of the iPod with the launch of iPhone 11. One changed the world of music, the other comes in pink and green.

Real estate is an industry boasting of cutting edge innovations, revolutionizing the way real estate is done in the world. And then a truck pulls up and guy pounds a stake in the ground, then attaches a post, and hangs a sign. The innovation in marketing? Our post is purple, your post is orange, your sign is vertical, their’s is a circle. Slow down all this advancement is making my head spin. Show me innovation.

The real estate license is a license to be involved in the legal process of exchanging ownership of real estate. The critical work we do depends on who you talk to. But everyone will agree, our role is to help people find property they want to own, and owners find buyers who want what they have and are willing to pay money for it. Matching ready, willing, and able people with ready, willing, able people who have what each other wants.

What innovation have you seen that does this matching? It’s not search programs. Those are filters. A house like this in this city, with this many bedrooms, for this price. That’s been done for at least ever. If there is a buyer for every property, real innovation will match the buyer to the house and the house to the buyer without having to wait for either of them to find the other. This could be done. If Bill Gate and Warren Buffet wanted this, Mark Zuckerberg would do it. If the real estate industry wanted this, it would not be done, but there would be some conversations.

Instead the innovation going on since at least 2004 is, get this, “lead generation”. Fifteen years ago Yahoo was the innovative company figuring out how to get name, phone numbers, and email addresses from people who clicked on house ads. The click was attached to a living breathing person at first. Then the lead generator turned that person into a lead, captured in, and sold it to the first person who wanted it. Then it was sold again. And again.

What happened to the person who clicked on that photo of the mid century modern home backing to a park-like setting? Somebody knows because somebody is keeping track. This person-lead was likely captured in multiple lead generating nets before someone “converted” them. Once converted, they became another statistic as one more tally in the conversion rate statistic. Put another notch in your lipstick belt Pat.

If turning people into leads and leads into statistics is innovation in the people business, well fine. If that’s as high as we want to aim go ahead. But I’m not participating.

The guests on the NPR show had another perspective. Because everything an anything is labeled innovation (and organic) the term is a cliche. Striving for this kind of innovation is a choice. Just the same, improving something existing to let it work better for more people in more places, for less cost, and less danger might not be innovation, but it’s valuable. In real estate, turning ideas into reality that produces outcomes to better suit the buyer and sellers, while improving the experience and reducing risk is valuable. And possible. If we only knew what home buyer and home sellers want. Hmmm. What is it they want. We ask and they tell us. But we don’t listen. What they want is not what we want so we turn back to the lead generator, throw out larger nets and try harder to convert you into a number. It’s a big world. Someone is listening and thinking and hearing the people…they want something green. And crisp. They will get it little by little, but the rest of the industry will paint your number pink. Or purple. Innovation.

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