Now that anyone can start a blog or review a business on Yelp, the old professional information gatekeepers (like journalists) are forced daily to prove their worth or die trying. SF Weekly would like to think that journalists have proven they're not expendable, but experts in other industries are now under the gun to do the same.
Take real estate: Nearly all of the resources needed to market, price, and handle paperwork to sell a home are available online. Does that make real estate agents expendable?
Billy Riggs, an urban planning Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, is using Twitter to research that question. After one unsuccessful attempt to sell his Noe Valley condo with a Realtor, Riggs decided to go the for-sale-by-owner route, and is using the San Francisco–based social networking service to market the property and to document the sales process. He got the idea from Twitter's co-founder, Biz Stone, whose tweet about selling his Berkeley home last month caused such an online ruckus that the site temporarily crashed.
But unlike Stone, Riggs doesn't have more than a million followers (as of last week, he had 13). He's had plenty of inquiries about the condo in the three weeks it's been on the market (it didn't hurt that Curbed SF gave his Twitter listing a plug), but no offers yet. "Hopefully we'll get an offer in the next few weeks," said Riggs, who is clearly more optimistic about this experiment than local real estate agents are.
Realtor Luba Muzichenko says it has always been difficult for owners to sell their houses without professional help, and that won't change in this era of Facebook and Twitter. "It's just a blip of marketing," she said.
Agent Tanja Beck added that owner sales — using social media or not — are all at high risk of being slapped with lawsuits. Beck also said that owners are far too attached to their homes to make rational decisions about pricing and other things. But Riggs, who hired a lawyer to prevent lawsuits, says he's even more skeptical about the industry's decisions: "I'd like to think that I can make a rational decision without hand-holding."
Although Riggs may be optimistic, he isn't unrealistic. "I don't know of anyone else using Twitter to sell a home [who] has broken away from an agency," he said. If it's going to render brokers obsolete, Twitter may still have a long way to go. Just ask Stone, who still had to hire a real estate agent to sell his home.