Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Contemplating cosmic changes in real estate

I made the decision to become a Realtor® last July. As in any life changing decision, there were a number of factors. I wanted to be in an industry that valued individual contribution. Working with people where I could develop a relationship was also important to me.

My vision of real estate came from my own experience of receiving dedicated personal service when buying and selling houses over the years. While I found houses of interest on the Internet when we did our last purchase, we ended up buying one that we had never seen on a computer. A great local agent at Bluewater GMAC Real Estate in Cape Carteret, NC found us just the right spot after showing us plenty of places we couldn't see digitally.

Now as I am coming up to speed as a Realtor® here on the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina (SOBX), I find that there is a huge push for real estate brokers to embrace the Internet. It is true that more and more customers are doing their initial searches on the Internet. The younger the people, the more likely they are to depend on some Internet help at first.

I believe that the Internet can add value to real estate transaction. I am a huge believer in technology used properly. However, I think people who believe that the Internet is going to drive all the costs out real transaction are misleading themselves or others whom they're trying to capture as customers. Adding technology to real estate purchases is not going to be the same as pay at the pump, ATM, or self checkout at the grocery store. Technology hasn't driven down our banking, grocery, or gasoline costs.

Buying real estate is also not like buying a car. While the Internet helps intelligent car purchasers save some money, it hasn't help much with my service costs at the local dealership.

Real estate is still a local market unless you just don't care where you live. Buying a home is far more complicated than any other purchase and comes with lots of potential pitfalls. The reason many people think that real estate transactions are easy is that they have been fortunate to have had some very good real estate brokers working with them. The number of things that can go wrong in a real estate transaction are amazing. Having nearly 24X7 human help during this process can protect the largest investment that you will likely ever make in your lifetime.

While the Internet can truly help, it is still important to have trained professionals doing a great job for each client who wants to find the right place to invest money in real estate, whether it is the perfect place for a second home, or the right spot for a great retirement home. There is no getting away from real estate requiring lots of shoe leather hitting the pavement or in our case lots of sandals on the sand.

While the real estate business is going to change dramatically just as many others have, it's not going to change to the point where working with quality professionals isn't important.

A post on one of my other blogs deals with an article which hinted that real estate professionals are on their way out because they don't add value equal to the commission that they charge. The post, "Old school at times and proud of it," is a detailed commentary on the subject and explains many of the complexities of the subject.

In this market, I think most sellers will find that a great Realtor® is worth every penny they charge.

While it may be very easy to buy a property right now, buying it and buying it right are two different things. Selling homes today requires all the professional help you can afford.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Our technological infirmity

Today it's possible to buy some amazing technology for very little. Look at flash drives which can haul around digital music, pictures, and documents. For the most part you plug them into your computer and copy information to and from them. I recently saw that you could buy Turbo Tax on a flash drive.

The unfortunate thing is that most technology isn't like a flash drive. I have some wonderful ink jet printers. They produce pictures with quality as stunning as is possible to transfer to paper or canvas. Well at least they do that when the stars are aligned, and I am holding my mouth at the correct angle.

Last night I was trying to print a few real estate listings from the Multi-Listing Service. My printer burped. The output from the printer which had been perfect all day, turned nearly unreadable. I tried cleaning the printer nozzles. That didn't work. I tried my wife's prescription when faced with malfeasance from any of our electronic devices. I turned it off and decided to let it rest overnight.

I even waited until after lunch before facing the printer once again. In a couple of hours of working with all my tricks I managed to get things back on track. Most people would have given up or thrown the printer over the cliff.

It occurred to me after this battle of humans and technology that we have reached the point that we can afford more technology than we can understand. It used to be that technology was expensive and came with people who understood how to make it work.

When something didn't work, we could call someone who might be able to explain why it didn't work.

Today technology is so inexpensive that there are very few people involved except the people who don't know out to make it work once they have purchased it.

Certainly the people selling most of the technology don't understand it. I wrote about the mostly clueless technology sales force when I faced the challenge of buying a new fax, printer, scanner, and copy machine which is more popularly known as an "AIO" device.

These are wonderful devices which cost very little considering how much they do when they are actually working. I wrote a couple of posts about my experiences getting a home office going with my AIO, a laser printer, a Mac computer, and a Windows/Linux computer. The first post, "HP AIO Photosmart C6180 and Mac OSX," and the second one, "The not so reluctant home system engineer," have some enlightening comments. Some very intelligent people, even with the help of some supposed experts, can't get all the features of these AIO devices to reliably work.

Printers aren't the only problems. I recently went out looking for a wide angle camera to take pictures of homes for my new career as a Realtor® in what I like to call my coastal North Carolina paradise. I wasn't surprised that once I got outside of a photo store, few people even understood what I was asking. In fact even in the photo store I probably knew as much about wide angle digital cameras as the sales people.

I guess the lesson is that it isn't too hard to buy more technology than you can use or at least keep working reliably. With wireless networks, cell phones that can do almost anything, and $1,200 laptops that can even do video conferencing along with the rest of modern computer tasks, we are awash in technology.

Now if we just had some people who understood how all of it works. At least I have some great photographs that I have managed to keep on the web. The one thing that works almost all the time is my Firefox browser, and for that I've glad. I even heard that Microsoft is backing off in features in their Office Products.

Perhaps we are at the technological peak, and we can hope that things will get easier and more reliable instead of getting more and more complex.