VOW’s, “Me Media” & the Housing Market

Did you know that there are now real estate Web sites where you can rate homes you’ve seen, leave comments — and see what others are saying, too?

So-called Virtual Office Websites (“VOW’s”) such as ZipRealty.com combine much of the interactivity of social media like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter with a veritable ocean of housing data available on the local Multiple Listing Service (“MLS”). (My preferred name for social media is “me media”).

Just to up the ante, they also promise to rebate 20% of the commission they receive to buyers.

So, is there any “there there?”

I just checked out ZipRealty.com, and was underwhelmed (to say the least).

Results of Test Drive

For starters, you have to register, and accept the standard, “black box” user agreement with tons of microscopic fine print.

It’s been 20 minutes since I clicked “yes, I accept,” and I’ve yet to receive any spam or have anyone knock on my door to claim my first-born . . . but I’m not holding my breath.

To test drive the site, I then ran a search on homes for sale in St. Louis Park, and got more than 300 hits.

So far, so good.

However, when I clicked on several individual listings and checked “client ratings,” I found . . . nothing.

More accurately, I was presented with a screen that cheerily invited me to “Be the first to write a review.”

The categories include “Overall Rating,” “Curb Appeal,” “Interior Appeal,” and “Neighborhood”; reviewers can assign anywhere from one (lowest) to five (highest) “houses,” or stars.

The rankings are followed by fields for “Pros,” “Cons,” and “Review,” where users can add their comments.

Waiting for Critical Mass?

Sites such as ZipRealty.com would seem to face two hurdles.

One. “Chicken & Egg” problem.

It’s hard to see prospective home Buyers flocking to VOW’s before they have any real, user-provided content, yet home Buyers aren’t going to input their comments on VOW’s until they attract more traffic.

In computer parlance, this is known as a “network effect”: the more people use something, the more valuable it becomes — and the more valuable it becomes, the more people use it. Think, the iPhone and its 100,000 app’s, or — once upon a time — Microsoft Windows.

Two. Push-back from home Sellers.

As one might imagine, Sellers are not particularly keen to have strangers trash their home in a public forum.

So, brokers such as Edina Realty are incorporating default, “opt-out” language into their listing agreements. Here is the relevant excerpt from Edina’s:

I understand that I have the additional option of allowing comments about my property to appear on VOWs, including negative comments, made by persons other than the broker operating the VOW. At this time, however, I decline . . . understanding that I may change these selections at any time.

Personally, it’s hard to imagine many home Sellers rejecting this clause and instead “opting in.”

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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