The Allegory of the Cave and Real Estate Shadows of the Web

4 minute read

It may be familiar to you, The Allegory of the Cave, or Plato’s Cave. Even if you haven’t read this before, I am sure you will have an understanding of it from your own lives. It comes from Plato’s “The Republic”…

Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.(source from Wiki)

From my relatively short time in this industry, it is becoming clearer to me every day that this parable can be used to describe the current situation we find in the relationship between the Real Estate industry and the internet.

Picture, if you will, the group of people chained to the wall as the vast majority of Australia’s Real Estate agents, facing a blank wall on which they are fed a limited view of the wider web outside the cave. At this point in time the prisoners, although not satisfied, have a degree of complacency with the projection of the real web they are being presented with.

The presentation of course is controlled. The presentation is a limited version of what is outside the cave, based on the minimum the presenters need to control, in order that the agents, chained to the wall, can feel this is all they need. Their ignorance is bliss, but comes under a heavy price structure.

What the agents may not understand is that the presentation is only a fraction, a shadow of what is outside the cave. What is outside the cave is infinite and it’s free. What is outside the cave is the future and possibilities are boundless, any direction can be taken and one day the cave could collapse leaving them suffocating in toxic fumes while the presenters scramble out, possibly to find another cave and another set of chained prisoners.

A recent comment in Business2 on the subject of breaking free of the current internet models that are presented to the real estate industry i.e.; the shadows on the wall, mentioned “It would be like coming off a five year gig on crack cocaine”

The crack cocaine in this instance is a great metaphor as well. Inflated prices because of control, a condensed and highly provocative version of reality, but once you have had a taste you are under the control of the experience and know nothing else that could be better. Into the cave you go, shadows projected by the drug, the real life in the sun becomes unreal and scary.

Maybe those chains aren’t really there at all. Maybe because of it being a competitive industry, those who venture forth up the stairs, out of the cave and into the light really don’t care about the others stuck in the cave watching the shadows.

But for the paradigm to change, more agents need to release themselves from the chains and see the reality. I will leave you too speculate on who are presenting the shadows…

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  • Andy Del Vecchio
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 3:12 pm 0Likes

    Oh and let me add, If you are reading this on Business2, then you are probably well out, or at least on your way out of the said cave ! ; )

  • Bill
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 3:35 pm 0Likes

    That analogy appeals to me. I see the real estate industry in a similar position to the travel industry 15 years ago when local agencies were staring at the wall. Who would now open up a main street travel agency. But as you say, there is nothing to fear for those willing to “step outside the cave”, see reality and grasp the opportunities.

    I don’t think anyone can predict the future for the industry say in 15 years but I somehow I can’t help feeling we’ll see a day when something like “VirginRealtyOnline” A one stop real estate experience for buyers and sellers.

    Should that day arrive who would then open up a main main street agency?

    I don’t

  • Greg Vincent
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm 0Likes

    Great first up article Andy. Welcome. I was actually having a chat to Robert Simeon about this very topic and where our industry is currently poised.

    The door is still wide open for innovative agents to put the foot on the accelerator and leave their competition in their dust.

    There are some amazing opportunities available for agents at the moment but yet when times get a bit tough many go back to the old ways rather than innovating. (a lot like the character Hem does in the book on managing change…Who Moved My Cheese)

    (If anyone hasn’t read the book, here’s a 2 minute preview video about Who Moved My Cheese.)

    When it comes to embracing technology there seem to be 3 types of people:-

    1. the innovators
    2. the immitators
    3. the spectators

    And when it comes to change there seem to be 3 main times when people change:-

    1. Shock :- when they have to change or their business dies
    2. Re-Invention :- normally happens when they hit a wall or roadblock
    3. Anticipation :- changing before their business hits the wall

    In 2011, we are going to see lots of changes in search, social media, property marketing, mobile technology, apps, etc and dispruptive technologies that will be impacting our industry and many agents/franchise groups will struggle to adapt.

    I think Ruport Murdoch put it best when he said

  • Peter Mericka
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 4:13 pm 0Likes

    In 2011 you guys are going to see some changes all right!

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm 0Likes

    Welcome Andy and a great first article. The cave is that over crowded that inhabitants are looking for alternate accommodation. Light has been beaming in for a few years now just that the vast majority are simply too frightened to move and will eventually perish in their cave of choice.

    Given they have been warned for years now and very little changed (until now). Nobody can say that they were not warned. I must admit that for the first time now I am seeing and hearing panic from within the cave.

  • Andy Del Vecchio
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 7:08 pm 0Likes

    Bill, an agent said to me the other day whilst we were talking about the internet and what you can do with Real Estate online ” they be selling it in super markets soon !)

    Thankyou Greg, Did Rupert cast that on a stone tablet?

    Peter , Yes.

    and Robert, Thankyou

    the cave has been relatively comfortable, what with the warm fire inside and the puppet show on the walls…

    but your right, caves are small

    out doors the possibilities are limitless! (The sun will only hurt your eyes for a little while but you can adjust )

  • Ryan O'Grady
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 9:25 pm 0Likes

    Couldn’t agree more guys. Just look at the agents commenting on this blog and how they’re embracing the web, all are miles ahead of their competitors. Welcome Andy, we look forward to future posts.

  • James
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 10:31 pm 0Likes

    Hey Andy thanks for elevating this debate with a great analogy.

    Can we expect you to get specific on what life outside the cave looks like and requires from real estate agents in future articles?


  • James
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 10:34 pm 0Likes
  • Glenn Batten
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 11:59 pm 0Likes

    Welcome Andy.. great first post.

    Met a few cavemen in your time in the industry hey? 🙂

  • Bill
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm 0Likes

    I’m not an agent but I’ll make a prediction that one day we will see in shopping malls “Real Estate Kiosks” similar to what mobile phone carriers operate from.

    The kiosks will have attendants in smart uniforms similar to the air hostess look. I can’t get “Virgin Real Estate” out of my mind.

    These kiosks will be connected to the internet by the new NBN and offer virtual tours along with everything a buyer would need to make a judgement on whether they want to see the home.

    The attendant will qualify the prospect and pass them to an agent.

    There will be no need to run expensive offices just kiosks and maybe one office in the city.

    I live in Canberra where there are several satellite cities with large malls in each location. Kiosks in all those malls would be linked to the central office in downtown Canberra.

    I’ll also predict that this will be done by a major brand who will act quickly to secure the ground or even a brand “Virgin” who see an opportunity to spread into the industry.

    I think the NBN will change real estate in ways we can’t even imagine.

  • Andy Del Vecchio
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 12:24 pm 0Likes

    James, I think Bill is already giving one example of what life outside the cave could look like…Bill I think you should give a ring to Sir Dick B

    That’s the beauty of what lies beyond the cave walls, I agree Bill, with faster speeds the possibilities are endless. You dream it and you could make it happen.

    Glen, I really haven’t met a real “caveman” yet. I would love to I think “cavemen” are a lot more advanced than we think they are, but when your options are limited ( or percieved to be) what else can the cavemen do?

    Ignorance is Bliss.

  • Bill
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm 0Likes

    Just as an aside if anyone wants to see what a current version of the general cave wall looks like just watch the the US Fox News channels.

  • Andy Del Vecchio
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm 0Likes

    “I will leave you too speculate on who are presenting the shadows

  • Vic
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 1:14 pm 0Likes

    I know of an agent in Tasmania who has expanded, across the state, quicker than most. He has closed all his shop fronts and doesn’t intend to ever reopen one.

    He has moved out of the cave and finds it quite an exciting and rewarding experience.

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 11:20 am 0Likes

    It is always an interesting discussion given what we really amazes me is that about 90 per cent of agencies in Australia don’t have a work – in – progress online strategy. The ones that do are pretty much over all the hype and simply concentrating on minding their *business* and developing new initiatives for their client base.

    Here is an interesting question for agents/agencies – what online initiatives did your business personally roll – out in 2010?

    As they say silence is golden

  • Sal Espro
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm 0Likes

    Focussing on somme practical,’outside the cave’, thinking, did you sell that $800,000,000 worth of ‘dbase’ real estate without advertising and just contacting people on your dbase? If so, that’s fantastic. If you still advertised them, why do you call them dbase sales? (And over what period were these sales made if you don’t mind me asking?)


  • Robert Simeon
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm 0Likes


    Actually, we have now completed $1,001,257,720 (yes – $1 billion) in subscriber sales. Yes – some were a combination of print and online and yes – some were just online only. The fact is that the vendors or purchasers receive our email alerts, newsletter, open for inspection lists etc. Some just subscribe to the one feature that we offer.

    The main concept that we subscribe to is to get as many as we can on our database so they are in constant contact with our brand. Approximately 60 per cent of our sales are to subscribers and the other 40 per cent of sales are to non – subscribers. I hope that clears up your questions.


  • Andy Del Vecchio
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:30 pm 0Likes

    Hey Robert

    where do we ask that question?

    Inside or outside the cave?
    because the answer could be quite different!

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 2:19 pm 0Likes


    I would think anywhere (both inside and outside the cave) and the answer would be pretty much the same. Even simpler: what new technologies did you roll – out in 2010 is even easier. I know Kylie and Glenn have been very proactive but again this is a very small percentage. The very proactive agencies should have sent out a minimum of forty plus blogs. The greater majority would have struggled between two and ten – with plenty sitting on zero.

    We should do an exclusive B2 poll on this very subject.

  • Bill
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 5:54 pm 0Likes

    There is no reason why agencies shouldn’t be blogging to promote their brand. Blogs can be setup for very little cost and offices don’t have to dedicate their own personnel to the task of writing blog posts. I have a couple of clients who asked me to contract blog writers which I did through and for a measly sum (by comparison to what one would expect to pay) they get quality posts submitted every couple of days.

    Through studying analytics a steady growth in website traffic to the blog has been generated so one can assume brand awareness is prevelant.

    Place a property alert subscription form on the blog pages and there you go, a database starts to grow. In a few months a few years it could contain a huge number of subscribers.

  • Vic
    Posted December 10, 2010 at 8:28 am 0Likes

    Peter Merricka,

    I am intrigued by your oneliner. “In 2011, you guys are going to see some changes all right!”

    Care to elaborate? Who are “you guys” and what “changes” are to come?

  • Sal Espro
    Posted December 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm 0Likes

    Vic, PLEASE don’t encourage him! Peter, PLEASE don’t answer, it spoils the flow of content in otherwise informative threads!

  • Sal Espro
    Posted December 10, 2010 at 12:39 pm 0Likes

    Ps Thankyou, Robert – That is stimulating!

  • Mamie Hatfield
    Posted December 24, 2010 at 8:31 am 0Likes

    Vic, PLEASE don’t encourage him! Peter, PLEASE don’t answer, it spoils the flow of content in otherwise informative threads!

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