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Looking Back at the Future of Real Estate

By Roy Flanders 8/12/96 ©Banker & Tradesman

 

I spend a lot of time these days talking to people about the Internet and the Web, and of course I spend even more time on it. I see us in the midst of massive, fundamental change-- change as exciting and profound as anything in this generation. And since I'm also an Exclusive Buyer Agent, when I talk about the Internet, I often get to talking or speculating about its impact on the Real Estate Industry. Only one thing seems clear: The future of Real Estate ain't what it used to be. (Thanks Yogi.)

The last article I did for Banker & Tradesman was back in February of '94; I pulled it out just to see what I was thinking back then and what had changed because that's what I wanted to write about-- Change. Where we are now: the Internet, Buyer Agency, the Information Age, etc...etc..., how we got here and where we might be headed from here. And what I was thinking about then--what I was writing about anyway--was the need for a "new perspective." Suggesting that we declare the battle for acceptance was now mostly over and won, and that it was time to move forward towards a new "vision."

Of course that was easy for me to say; even back then I was a relative johnny-come-lately. The original MABA members had been doing bloody battle since 1990 to get Buyer Agency to where it was.

Ask someone "how'd you make all that money?" or "how'd you lose all that money?" or "how'd you become a big movie star or a Bowery bum?" More often than not if they're telling the truth you'll hear something like, "Very very slowly--then suddenly!" That's how change seems to happen, or better, how we see it happen. And how did all these changes we see today take place, and when? Can one really see what changes are taking place right now? Of course change can't happen right Now, it requires a before and an after. Right? How does the Future happen? (These kinds of ponderous things were on my mind as I rummaged around through the files and memories from that year and then the year before--1993.)

And there it was! In amongst all the scattered pieces along the time line of that year was a startling discovery. I felt what an archeologist must feel! (I even remembered a line in a boozy song I once wrote: "The future's clear only when you look back.")

In that one year--1993--was a model, an explanation, a precursor of everything that's happening and not happening in our real estate buyer agent Webbed and Interneted world today! The future of real estate happened in 1993--well, at least one future. And I don't mean Buyer Agency is the future, although it's part of it right now. I'm talking about dealing with discontinuity, with unknowns, with the stuff that hasn't happened yet.

We can't control what happens, just how we respond to what happens. We all know that right?

But I want to give you a sense of what I felt as I came across the evidence: notes and programs from MABA events, two PAG Reports from the NAR, a blurry snapshot of me with Ralph Nader, lots of mailings and news clips on buyer brokers, things you save because you might need them someday, and lots of primitive stuff to connect me to the Internet.

Stick with me for a sort of made for old time TV but it's just in a newspaper documentary. Really, play along. Supply your own crackly newsreel type music; I'll do the narration in a dated but distinguished voice:

 

FADE IN:

ON SPINNING CALENDER, BRINGING US BACK TO 1993, APRIL DISSOLVE TO: LARGE CROWD IN AUDITORIUM JUMPS TO: CLOSEUPS OF VARIOUS NOTABLES AND HAPPY BUYER AGENTS

1993 was a watershed year for Buyer Agency in Massachusetts. On the first weekend in April, buyer agents, consumers and media converged on Boston to hear experts on buyer agency from Massachusetts and around the country join consumer advocates and government officials in discussing the coming of age of the concept and practice of Buyer Agency. Ralph Nader also warned that the dangers to the buyer agent movement may lay nascent in it's own success, that the day might come when widespread co-opting of the buyer representation concept by traditional real estate powers would set back any consumer oriented progress. It seemed clear that we had reached a new level. It was a heady weekend for buyer agents. (Not many of us worried about being co-opted just yet.) And no one in the hall ever mentioned the words, "World Wide Web."

CUT TO: TALL, READHEADED COLLEGE KID, IN SHORTS, AT COMPUTER

Two months earlier a 21 year old student out at the University of Illinois, who had been working part time writing computer code for $6.85 an hour, finished building a program with a friend; they called it "Mosaic." His program took what had up to that time been just a bunch of arcane commands and computer text and translated it into user friendly, multimedia information accessed instantly with the click of a mouse through a web of shared resources over the Internet. The name "World Wide Web," had been around since 1990, and the concept went back 10 years before that.

When Marc Andreessen's new web "browser" was released there were only 50 known web servers worldwide (computers serving up special "language" coded documents which could be read on the web). That March WWW traffic amounted to 0.1% of all Internet traffic. By Fall that traffic would grow tenfold to 1% of the Internet backbone and the number of known Web servers would exceed 200. And still, only a relatively few people had heard of the Internet or the Web.

CUT TO: WELL DRESSED GROUP OF MEN AND WOMEN, WITH LOTS OF CHARTS. [THEME FROM "STAR WARS" PLAYS]

Throughout 1993 intense meetings took place of NAR's Presidential Advisory Group on MLS Technology Applications. Their charge was to "To assess the current trends in technology applications to real estate... especially as it extends to or includes MLS information delivery systems. To make recommendations concerning what actions the Realtor family should take to assure that it maintains control of MLS systems whether used by the brokerage industry or as it may be provided directly to the public." And their "Vision" was, "That the Realtor is the primary provider/ distributor of all information needed by a consumer in a real estate transaction."

No one in this group seemed to be aware yet of Mosaic or the World Wide Web .

CUT TO: BUYER BROKERS IN THE STREETS SETTING OFF FIREWORKS, SOME CARRYING MONEY TO THE BANK, OR BUYING NEW RANGE ROVERS

That July 2, of 1993 was an early Independence day, and a coming out party for Buyer Brokers in Massachusetts. It was the effective date for use of the new Mandatory Agency Disclosure Form by all real estate licensees. Not only did it have to be presented on first personal contact to discuss a specific property, it spelled out very clearly exactly what each type of broker did, and for whom they worked. It marked the beginning of a new era in real estate practices, as well as profound new choices for consumers.

MABA Directors had worked closely with state officials, GBREB, MAR, consumer advocates and national agency experts for many months in drafting this new version of the agency disclosure. It would serve a progressive model for other states to follow.

CUT TO: A DIFFERENT GROUP OF SERIOUS FOLKS IN SUITS, SOME ARE LAWYERS, ALL ARE INTENSE.

Another Realtor group had been working throughout 1993 to prepare recommendations concerning the Facilitator/Non-Agency Concept, or other ways to respond to the changes brought about through heightened consumer awareness of agency, and the growth of confusion resulting from increasing acceptance of buyer agency. This process would result in a new legal offensive to modify the existing laws of agency as they applied to real estate around the country. That action is still ongoing today.

CUT TO: HALF A DOZEN GEEKY COLLEGE KIDS, EATING TWINKIES, DRINKING COKE AT COMPUTERS

Back in Illinois that Fall word was quietly getting out about this new program, this new graphical browser for the World Wide Web. The school's National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), where Marc Andreessen worked, put on more programmers and by November released new versions of Mosiac to run on Macintosh and Windows computers.

Those of us who played with computers were starting to play with and talk about the Web. There wasn't much fun "stuff" out there yet, and the program continued to bog down or crash. But it was irresistible, and very cool. It just reeked of possibilities. By the time Andreessen graduated, a month later, there were over a million people worldwide using Mosaic obtained for free over the Internet.

FADE OUT

 

That description doesn't quite recreate the little epiphany I experienced over at my file cabinets, but it was a fun break for me.

Today you can't go anywhere with out being blabbed to about the Internet and the Web. But from those 50 servers back in '93 when the Agency Disclosure Form came out, to roughly 5 million last year and more than 10 million servers today...Well, it's something we all might want to get friendly with. Besides, it's fun.

Seems we each have a hand in shaping the future as a result of the kind perspective we bring to our encounters with change. When we are open to change and embrace what is positive, we find there is a fortification of energy, we get into the flow. When we resist natural change, when we start trying to control things which are beyond our control, we lose energy. Things bog down. At best it is naive, and at worst, arrogant.

In our next little docudrama, I promise to bring you up to the present. And we'll check out our exciting new tool: RIN.

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Roy Flanders is the owner of Pro Buyer Associates on Nantucket Island, and a consultant on Internet strategies. He can be reached at: flanders@probuyer.com, (508) 228-7500, http://probuyer.com