House hunting with Zillow and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

The past two weeks have been filled with house hunting as our current lease is about to expire. In Florida, as in most states, the real estate listings database (the MLS/Multiple listing system) are largely governed by the National Association of Realtors. Before an antitrust lawsuit by the Department of Justice in 2005, the NAR constrained brokers to showing limited MLS information on their websites. In the 2008 settlement, the NAR agreed that Internet brokerages would be given access to the same listings as traditional brokerages.

Before the settlement, it would have been virtually impossible to go about looking for a house on your own without an agent. But these days, the MLS has become a lot more transparent especially with websites such as Zillow, Redfin and Trulia. Armed with these, my husband and I have no qualms calling the listing agent directly. The way we think about it, the value add of a real estate agent, especially in the searching phase, has been largely erased. This is even more true when looking for a rental where the contract is a lot less complicated compared to buying a house.

I was scheduled to see a rental on Thursday with a leasing agent. He messaged me on the day of, to say that the property is no longer available. Without any thought, I responded with, “Any alternatives in the same area?” I figured, if he wants to make a sale and he happens to have one available, it would not hurt, right? Imagine my disbelief when he launched into a “text-storm” of how I should get myself a realtor because no one will take me seriously by calling on my own. He also called my search “all over the place.” I fired back that I found my current apartment on my own with no agent. He went on another tirade of how costly it would have been for me if something bad had happened. I stopped messaging him as it was clear he had an axe to grind with people like me who prefer to search on our own. But it made me think hard, what exactly would have been his value add, especially on a rental?

This, to me is an example of an “innovate/adapt-or-die” story. Profits and dominance in a lot of industries regulated by labyrinthine policies and bullied around by incumbents, are largely ensured. That is, until a disruptor, usually a tech company, comes along. But it’s not just the company that needs to watch out but also the players/employees within the industry. This is why, for example, taxicab drivers may suddenly find themselves jobless if they fail to change with the disruptions of Uber, Lyft, et. al. The same applies for real estate agents. Because, I as a potential buyer/renter will go about house hunting in a new way thanks to Zillow and Google’s newly-launched mortgage calculator. Now if we could just get pre-approved online, that would be the cherry on top.

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Here are the most relevant news in tech and retail this week.

In tech:

  1. SpaceX Dragon will attempt another landing on unmanned ship off the Florida coast this weekend on February 8, 2015
  2. Earnings: Twitter delivers 97% YoY increase in revenues for Q4 2014 but misses expectations on usage;  LinkedIn reports 45% revenue increase from 2013 but softens outlook
  3. Data analytics platform Palantir acquires startup Fancy That for its retail and shopping data
  4. E-commerce group Rocket Internet invests €600M in food delivery ventures
  5. Uber partners with Carnegie Mellon University for a research facility focused on autonomous driving vehicles

In retail:

  1. Michael Kors exceeds Q3 sales and profits estimates but reports narrower margins and maturing North American market
  2. LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA full-year earnings miss estimates as Chinese shoppers curb spending
  3. Swiss watchmaker Swatch to launch a new smartwatch in the next two to three months
  4. Under Armour spends more than half a billion to buy fitness apps MyFitnessPal and Endomondo
  5. Adidas releases a mobile app to serve as a virtual waiting line for its limited edition footwear and apparel; in time for release of Kanye’s new sneakers

3 thoughts on “House hunting with Zillow and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

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