Did Keller Williams Just, "Jump the Shark*"?

Mar, 26 2018

Did Keller Williams Just, "Jump the Shark*"?

The headline screamed; “KW No Longer a Real Estate Company!”?   But, if you read the article to find out what they had become, you were probably let down.   If Amazon can instantly become a grocer, what could KW’s 170K agents become?  Turns out, they become Keller Williams agents.   

Still, when the founder of the largest real estate company, if you don’t consider Remax, says they are no longer a real estate company, it tends to draw attention.  Confusing people everywhere, Gary Keller recently proclaimed a new strategic direction for his Company.   Keller Williams will now be a technology company!  We, “build technology”.  We “hire technologists”, proclaimed Keller.  

To prove his point, Keller debuted KW’s artificial intelligence-based virtual assistant and referral platform named; Kellie.    But make no mistake, Kellie isn’t what anyone at Wired Magazine, much less the AI Community, would call “artificial intelligence”.  Even Keller admits his vision is still in its infancy, and compares his Kellie to that of a 2 year-old.     

Will Kellie become the AI engine that revolutionizes residential real estate?  Who knows?  I have yet to read a single Kellie revue that, other than using some buzzwords, can articulate its mission.   Still, Keller has seen the light, whatever that may be, and will invest tens of millions of dollars toward his effort.  

Stay in your lane Gary!

Gary Keller is a master salesman and franchiser.  His multi-level, downstream referral structure was brilliant in building and creating the KW we know today.   He is a very smart guy whose name will forever be linked to the best in his field; the likes of Kroc, Popeil, Ziglar and Mary Kay.  

The problem is, Gary isn’t in the same league as Elon, Steve, Bill or even Melinda at this point.  That’s not a snub, it’s just rarefied air.  Gary Keller is calling for an AI revolution.   Not exactly revelatory to anyone.  But, it really isn’t the Realtor’s call here.  You can’t just don a t-shirt and hoodie and call yourself a technologist.  It doesn’t work that way.  

Much of Keller’s 3-hour mission address is available online.  You can judge for yourself how “Kellie” will improve your business.  That said, I do agree with Mr. Keller when he notes a, “sense of urgency” within our industry. Everyone agrees; the underlying industry which KW sits atop is changing.  Today, KW represents over 170K agents.  What’s their end game?  Build to 250K agents, 400K agents?   Is the world telling us we need 500K KW agents?  Probably not.   

The need for Keller to do something is crystal clear.  With an average Agent age of 58, a significant percentage of KW’s 170K sales agents will retire over the next few years.  It is very doubtful the next generation of sales agents will share the same enthusiasm for downstream multi-level marketing schemes and large commission splits.  

Many students of life cycle marketing will tell you, the national franchise format that dominated residential real estate for the last 50 years, has peaked.  A confluence of technology and youth is finally putting the last century to bed.      

So what does this mean?  In the short term absolutely nothing.  As one KW agent put it; “it’s just a bunch of rah-rah”.  Still, the “we are not a real estate company anymore” is a really strange position to take.

Keller Williams works, as we all do, in one of our nation’s oddest economies.  Ours is a market that operates from a patched-together collection of non-profit MLS’s whose only charter is to support the lobbying efforts of their “owners”—the National Association of Realtors.    That’s a mouthful, but everyone knows the real estate industry isn’t anything close to a “normal” industry.  From day one, it was designed for change to be very difficult.  

If you have ever visited an MLS office, you know the infrastructure of our industry is fragile.  Yet KW’s plan calls for investing tens of millions of dollars on their Kellie idea.  Investing tens of millions of dollars on stilts over an industry of sand, just doesn’t seem like a very good idea.  


*”Jumping the Shark”, is an idiom, first employed to describe a moment in evolution when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity beyond recovery.

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