Software isn’t eating real estate brokerage, yet

Part of moving to the Netherlands was dealing with a real estate broker. I am surprised it is 2016 and the system is still that inefficient.

The problem with brokers is almost the same problem with taxis, there is a conflict of interest. Taxis make more money by driving you more than you need, and brokers make money by bringing you more expensive units. And both have – almost – no interest for retaining you, therefore they need to squeeze the biggest amount of money they can for the transaction they are dealing with you.

While the taxi problems got solved by Uber through having the collective rating from different customers, the problem remains with real estate brokerage.

What the broker do?

  1. Search & Discovery: They help you search for units & schedule viewings. They also keep sending questions back and forth with landlords.
  2. Negotiating details: This is where it gets interesting, while they will try to convince you there is no negotiation on price, they might negotiate other minor details such as can I smoke? Can I bring my pet?
  3. Finalize the deal: Writing & signing the contract, recording the unit status before rental, and finalizing government documents if any.

Technology ate half of the first part, search and discovery, but not the rest. There are thousands of real estate directories & classifieds online helping customers search and discover properties.

Yet, scheduling viewings still happen in a very manual way, annoying landlords with tons of calls, questions, and requests while such info should be available online and facilitated easily.

I think there is an opportunity to build the right technology stack that removes friction, facilitates communication, automates contracting, and makes every part of the process seamless, removing the need for a middle man with a conflict of interest with the person they represent. This day didn’t come yet, but I see it in the near future.

The Theseus Disclaimer: the only constant is change.

The paradox goes as follows, captain Theseus’s ship has a defect plank. The ship team changes the defect plank with a new one. After a while, another plank goes defect, another replacement. The changes keep coming until all the ship planks have been replaced by newer planks. Is it still the same ship?

Considering the ship planks are your thoughts and beliefs. Are you the same person since birth? Before you answer this question, go check your Facebook posts from two years ago. Do you still think you are the same person?

The internet is becoming a snapshot of your opinions at every single moment, giving you or others the chance to see what was your opinion about something, say 2 years ago and now.

As time move forward, there will always be someone who disagrees with you at the current moment, who can bring an opinion you had in the past and posted on social media ignoring the fact that people change.

I think if one wants to avoid this from happening, one shouldn’t post his opinion on any controversial matter. Or maybe, everyone should adopt the Theseus disclaimer:

The person who wrote this post is a human being, and might change their opinions or beliefs in the future. This doesn’t mean they are not liable for what they said now, but it means you have to understand and respect the fact of change.

Disclaimer: Theseus didn’t have a disclaimer. I made this up.

Figure 1

I was born with a rare disease that causes bones not to form properly making them very fragile and easily fractured. Growing up in Egypt with our medical system in pre-internet era made it harder to diagnose me correctly until I became 4 years old.

Fast forward 25 years, 20+ surgeries, and tens of fractures. I was watching a session by Andy Wiseman, the partner at USV ventures (I am an avid reader of Fred Wilson’s blog and a big fan). Andy was talking about one of their portfolio companies “Figure 1”. It is a medical photo sharing app for medical professionals where they can post pictures of patients or their reports (hiding the patient identity) and get immediate feedback from other doctors.

While I am not a medical professional, I wanted to see the app in action and searched for my case. I started reading the interactions and for example I learned that the types of my case are not sorted by severity but rather by when it was discovered.

Since my disease is rare, there is a bias in the medical community for not researching it, which is why in my opinion there isn’t much advancement with finding a cure.

Figure 1 would be great if the patient can be part of the doctor’s learning process. I don’t mind sharing my x-rays on the app. I already tried but it said uploading only allowed for medical professionals. I understand this is important to keep the platform as professional as possible and not slip into becoming a patient-doctor medical community.

However, I think allowing doctors to tag their patients upon their consent so that other doctors can reach out to the patient and ask questions. A disease doesn’t only affect the person body parts, but their whole life and the lives of their surrounding ones which is important learning for doctors.

I am always happy by what technology is making us capable of doing. I wished this app existed when I was getting fractured and no one knew what I had.

Data Driven Confirmation Bias

Two weeks ago I had a presentation at work as part of a training. The presentation meant to show a problem and my team’s proposed solution to this problem. I wanted to show at the beginning of the presentation how the problem is growing. I pulled data showing the month over month growth for the past year and a surprise was waiting for me.

It wasn’t growing. There was no pattern. Random fluctuations of ups and downs. No problem, let’s pull the data from the year before and compare the same month from the two years. Voila! We have a nice growth trend.

I just finished the book “How to lie with statistics?”. It is a nice short read about how statisticians, and politicians manipulate the way they present statistical facts to different audiences to convey a message.

What I found myself doing on this day is applying what’s in the book subconsciously because I was enthusiastic about proving my point, while what I did on this day wasn’t mentioned in the book, but I kept thinking about how to make the problem looks growing, regardless of the fact that there is no monthly trend. Someone even recommended using the cumulative numbers to display a nice growth chart.

Before this, I was telling a friend that being data driven doesn’t mean you are not biased. Most of the time you will find data to support your case (unless it is extremely illogical).

Our biases drive us to find the data that support our opinion, ignoring data that doesn’t. It is up to one’s self and to their self awareness to realize whether they are really looking for the truth, or dragged into a data driven confirmation bias.

Time, Distance, Price, and Priority

This post is not about attacking Uber. I love Uber. It changed the way I move in Cairo, & it saved me few times in Amsterdam. It is about an edge case where the API didn’t provide the best price for the customer, and how to prioritize when there is a conflict.

The Story

Two week ago, I forgot my keys in the office and couldn’t go back to get them. I had an extra key with a friend so I went to his house to get it. I went with two of my friends and after we got the key, it was too late that there was no public transportation anymore. No transportation, no problem. Uber to the rescue.

I requested an Uber and we took it from my friend’s home to my home, then from my home to my friends’ home. The first part was easy, the second part I entered the address of my friends’ home  and I saw the recommended route on the map as in the screenshot:


If you know me, I am an optimization freak. Being a fulltime taxi user back in Egypt made me paranoid about optimizing my route for both time & price. One wrong decision can make you pay double the price & not save much time. That’s why I highly take care of which route I am taking and how much it will result in payment.

What struck me in the above screenshot was, assuming it is a square from where the car now to the destination point, why move with the edges when you can cut it diagonally and save much more distance which means paying less?

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