Things are looking bleak for the real estate industry. For example, Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL) saw a drop in its third-quarter profits and lowered its full-year guidance.
As with any speculative market, the good times don't last forever. In fact, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders, confidence for builders is at levels not seen since the early 1990s (yes, that was a time when there was another plunge in real estate, focused in places like southern California).
Then again, there is certainly good news: it's getting much easier to buy a quality house.
The real estate industry still has some problems – such as its commission structure.
But there is more good news: a growing number of web sites are providing much more information to home buyers and sellers. A recent example is Zillow, which I wrote about in Bloggingstocks.com. The company struck a deal with Yahoo! Other portals are also gunning for the real estate market, such as Google and MSN.
Another player is Reply.com. Last week, I met with the company's CEO, Payam Zamani.
Like Zillow, you can get a valuation on most homes in the US. But there are some other cool features. There is a kind of MySpace quality to it; that is, Reply.com allows users to make comments and post ratings on houses. Over time, this should be a valuable database.
But the most interesting feature is Unsolicited Offer, which should help put pressure on real estate commissions. Let's say that you find a house you want to buy – based on your search – you can make an offer directly to the homeowner.
With the Internet, many industries have experienced lower commissions and fees – as has been the case with stock brokers and travel agents. As for real estate, the industry has been quite savvy at keeping the status quo. But, it's only a matter of time before these commissions crumble too.
Tom Taulli is the author of a variety of books, such as the Complete M&A Handbook and operates InvestorOffering.com.