People across the nation are suddenly reevaluating what the Internet—and it’s abundance of information untainted by Congressional hands—means to them. Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, and a number of other popular info sites played their extremely effective trump card of opposition against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) on Wednesday. The outcry from these challengers was basically this: allowing the government to smash down the hammer of “justice” on “rogue” websites with only the faintest definition of what piracy entails is, well, cheating. It’s like that annoying cousin who at the last minute announces that in his version of Monopoly, you Go To Jail instead of Collect $200…whenever he says so.
Self-sufficiency is sexy.
Real Estate, believe it or not, was subject to similar restrictions. Fortunately, it’s evolved in quite the opposite way. Where public real estate data used to be only in the hands of corporate real estate brokerages which, like any industry, housed good and bad representation, there has now been a revolution of information sharing. Buyers can now shop for homes IN their homes, and make rational decisions based on data they’ve gathered by themselves. That’s not to say that they still don’t need an agent to help with the paperwork, but today there are tons of For-Sale-By-Owner websites popping up all over the Web that give buyers the choice to be a one-man show.
Freedom shouldn’t taste like blissful ignorance.
And that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it? Choice. Freedom to decide how you choose to search, when you plan to buy, and how much you are willing to pay. Unless they are buying a personal Jet, buyers are going to be making the most expensive purchase of their lives when they purchase a home. Without a steady source of information readily available, prospective homebuyers are in danger of getting railroaded. One of the main reasons Movoto.com was founded was to deliver better real estate search tools, knowledge, and liberty to those who needed it, and the means to move forward with an experienced professional when they were ready to do so. But even if you’re just browsing novelty real estate with no intention to buy, one thing should always be certain: the information should be waiting for you whenever you want.
The Agent Connection
Just as more information has made us more tech-sure and market savvy, think about what the Age of Technology has done for Real Estate agents. It’s true that now individual agents aren’t the only authority when it comes to Real Estate, but they are also able to self-educate themselves on new market developments and little known real estate deals, and generally increase their resourcefulness for picky clients in a hurry. A popular analogy is that working without a Real Estate agent is like going to court without a lawyer; you may be able to skim a few law books, but isn’t it better to leave things to a professional who makes their living fighting for clients like you? The Internet has extended an agent’s reach to people of all walks of life and locations through websites and blogs populated with their own local inside knowledge. I think it’s safe to say that the Internet has kept agents edgy, glib, and totally hooked to updating Twitter.
A Slippery Slope
Something that the average home search user may not know is that there is a lot of red tape when it comes to displaying home for sale information on the internet. That information is guarded by the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), a database where Real Estate agents search and upload properties for sale. If you are a traditional brokerage with a website, it’s no big deal to show these properties on your website, provided that you stick to showing only the areas you service. But if you endeavor to provide more than average local agent, it has sometimes been seen as disenfranchising real estate agents. This is sometimes for very good reason, since fraud and Internet scams can turn an exciting home search into a personal nightmare. Regardless, a more complete solution and sharing of information should be viewed as an asset, not a problem. Harvard Business School’s Joseph Badaracco made a very apt observation when he said, “In today’s environment, hoarding knowledge ultimately erodes your power. If you know something very important, the way to get power is by actually sharing it.”
Say no to the Dark Ages?
So, is the freedom of Internet real estate information in jeopardy if other measures like the infamous SOPA gains traction? Seeing how supporters began leaking away like water through a sieve after the Google and Wikipedia protest, there was little doubt that it was doomed to fail. But if a SOPA-like edict ever does make through the jungle of opposition, then the precedent for controlling information will be set and nothing is safe. What may start as “protecting corporate rights” could eventually turn into a scene from a Kurt Vonnegut book. To be fair, the movie and music industry are losing money and do have a legitimate reason to want to take action (though it’s not immediately obvious why companies like L’Oreal, Revlon, and Tiffany & Co. were on the list of SOPA supporters); SOPA just isn’t the answer they were looking for. Real estate is in a different sphere of influence, but is not immune to the consequences if something like SOPA ever passes. If you are in the midst of an active home search, picture five real estate sites you frequent—now imagine those suddenly gone. The Dark Ages of Real Estate? Maybe.
The Bottom Line: Protect your right to information.