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Could a decentralized sales model work?

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Since I started blogging last year, I’ve been getting regular emails from both people I know and from readers I don’t know (but hope to one day meet) asking for advice on buying real estate. Usually somebody sends me the link to a place they’re thinking about buying, and they want to know what I think about the property and the neighborhood.

I’m more than happy to help when I can and I try to be brutally honest in terms of what I think. What’s interesting about this dynamic though, is that I don’t have a vested interest in any of the outcomes. Whether I tell that person I love the place or that it’s shit, I don’t stand to gain anything. And that means I can be brutally honest. It’s for this same reason that customer reviews on websites can work so well. 

Because on the flip side, if I make money when you buy, then guess what, I’m going to want you to buy. That’s how it works for any industry–from financial services to real estate to retail. That’s why some stores will promote the fact that their sales people are not on commission. Although you could argue that those sales people are then less motivated to help you.

In any event, all of this got me wondering if there isn’t some way to take customer reviews to the next level. Could a decentralized sales model work?

Last year I had a conference call with one of the chief officers of one of the top 3 real estate websites in the US and I was told that they had actually tested a “social buying model.” It ultimately failed, but it strikes me as an interesting concept. Reviews are starting to feel a bit dated now on the social web, but I think the idea of crowdsourced input is here to stay.

Image: Flickr

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