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Today’s “Ask the Expert” column features John L. Heithaus, the Chief Strategy Officer for BuyerMLS.

Q: The real estate industry has clearly been turned upside down by the Internet, yet many industry thinkers would say there are even bigger changes coming. Looking into your crystal ball, what big trends do you see on the horizon?

A: First, I’m not a fan of crystal balls, per se. I prefer basing projections on what we see, hear and, as logically as possible, infer from front-line sources and throughout the value chain.

I’ve worked in real estate for more than 30 years across many facets of the industry and I can say without a doubt that the velocity of change we face is stunningly fast compared to the past. The optimist in me hopes that our industry is uniquely poised to make use of all the advances and that we’re nimble enough to survive and thrive in the next five to 10 years. But capitalism does not always reward the nimble, the largest or the best endowed…it’s funny that way.

Web 3.0 is about personalization. Newspapers allow readers to customize homepages so their favorite sections are displayed at the top, travel sites can remember if you want a window seat, and online shopping sites know what products to feature in their sidebar to get you to make a purchase. Higher levels of personalization will be far more pervasive (and efficient) and this is good news for real estate because our entire foundation is built on giving clients what they want. If the industry wants to deliver this better than anybody, substantial investments in people, technology and tools are necessary.

Another big shift will be the expansion of our traditional property-centric focus. Up until now, the real estate process doesn’t start until someone decides to list their house for sale. But new advances in technology mean that perspective is quickly becoming a myopic way to do business. Instead, we need to recognize that buyers are an asset the industry hasn’t maximized to their full potential. We focus on them once they’ve come to the table, but they are valuable long before any negotiations take place. The next big wave will include ways to advertise motivated buyers who are looking for properties, not just the properties themselves.

This also applies to what we term “big data.” In financial services, for instance, rating systems like Morningstar make it easy for consumers to analyze their own data when they need to make a purchasing decision. It is time this kind of buyer intelligence made its way into real estate. We have the data, we have the tools, and we have the demand from our clients. It is just a matter of time before this becomes a commonplace practice.

The natural evolution of the industry has always been to increase efficiency so that we maximize profits for all parties involved. With a more mature set of tools at our fingertips, we can ramp up all the avenues that go into a real estate transaction—from broadening how we get leads in the first place to what we do with the information we gather. There may be more changes coming, but they will open up far more opportunities than we have ever seen before, so my inner real estate optimist is looking forward to seeing it all unfold.

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