Comeback of the Consumer Savings Value Proposition in Real Estate

Like fellow real estate consumer advocates and “change agents,” my passion is helping real estate consumers save money—collectively, an estimated $30 billion annually through new technologies and new money-saving business models.  Over the past fifteen years, I’ve come to believe that a steady drumbeat of innovation is more likely to be transforming than a single “big bang” event that seeks to bring about “revolutionary” changes the real estate industry.

So, I was delighted to see the “Comeback of the Consumer Savings Value Proposition” at ConnectSF 2009, the leading real estate technology conference in August. There wasn’t a panel by that name on the formal agenda, but the comeback was there in the “Start-up Alley,” “Launch Pad,” and “Connect Create.” Beyond FSBOs and alternative fees, I counted a half dozen ways new companies are helping real estate consumers save money:

1. SAVINGS AGGREGATORS
Examples:
http://www.CondoDealz.com
http://www.Closing.com
http://www.WorkforceResource.com

2. SOCIAL SAVINGS: A bold new frontier, consumers rewarded by sharing savings
Example:
http://www.MyFrontSteps.com

3. PARADIGM CHANGERS
Example:
http://www.NationalBLS.com (National Buyer Listing Service, need we say more?)

4. INFORMED DECISION-MAKING TOOLS
Examples:
http://www.AltosResearch.com
http://NeighborCity.com

5. FEE REDUCTIONS / SERVICE COMPANIES
Example:
http://www.Home-Account.com

6. FEE TRANSPARENCY
Examples:
http://www.Closing.com
Agent Scouting Report (if they ever publish commissions, could deliver billions in consumer savings!)

Whether those new entrants ever think of themselves as a group, “change agents” are transforming the industry, some though technology, others through the political process (go Bruce Hahn), others through new consumer groups (go Doug Miller), and still others by educating consumers directly about their rights (go Erle Rawlins).

I continue to believe we are more a loose affiliation of real estate consumer advocates with the ability to organize on an adhoc basis (see case study from 2001), than a single organization or an event waiting to happen. Whether we ever sing together as one chorus, individuals like Joel Stern have proven the power of one consistent, prophetic voice.

Would anyone else, regardless of whether they are passionate about a single issue or systemic change, be interested using a wiki to coauthor a reform agenda and / or catalogue consumer savings opportunities in real estate?  How about attending a monthly series of real estate round tables, or fireside chats, in Boston and online?  Here’s an example of one hosted at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School in January 2009.  I am there again today, talking about using VRM (vendor relationship management) to deliver consumer savings through a national network of self-organizing local home buyer clubs.  You can follow VRoom Boston 2009 on Twitter using #VRM.

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