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Overcoming uberization through knowledge asymmetry and cognitive rent

Sébastien Bourbon

Associate Director IFIC Real Estate Group, Expert at the Court of Appeal of Lyon

Doctor DBA, Business Science Institute

(DBA thesis supervised by Pr. Denis)



Can the real estate agent disappear? How to rethink real estate intermediation in the digital age? What organizational and management design should be considered to meet this challenge? So many strategic questions to which the real estate agency manager must find answers.

Impact(s) of the research: main results

In addition to modeling the functioning of the new real estate market today, I propose to understand the positioning of the real estate agent not as a consequence of an asymmetry of information between the supply and demand of housing, but as an asymmetry of knowledge. The real estate agent derives his legitimacy from the possession of tacit knowledge that is not accessible through digital tools.

I have also built a knowledge asymmetry assessment tool that allows to identify and measure the knowledge asymmetry, to position the agent according to the identified asymmetry within a configuration table, all this including knowledge management measures of the agency. I am currently promoting the tool and the concept of cognitive rent -in particular by relaying my recent publications- to large structures in my sector for a larger scale implementation. Some actors have already shown great interest in the approach.

Finally, my DBA reinterprets Jensen and Meckling's theory of agency with regard to the current reality of real estate agent work. In a recent publication, Michael Jensen himself recognizes the need to update his theory. According to him, the transparency of information increased by digital technology no longer allows to maintain the informational rent. One of my proposals is to replace informational rent with the concept of cognitive rent, defined as "intangible capital constituted through the accumulation, transformation and creation of implicit and explicit knowledge that gives a competitive advantage in a given market and/or a favorable position in a relationship with an interlocutor.

Foundations of the research

The reflection of my work is structured around the notion of information asymmetry in a market using an intermediary, i.e. the real estate agent.

My previous research led me to choose the agency theory of Jensen and Meckling (1976). It offers an interesting reading of the legitimacy of the intermediary in a market with strong information asymmetry. This theory allows us to understand that the agent becomes necessary in a situation where there is an imbalance of information between supply and demand. One of the two parties, called the "principal", will then conclude a moral and/or legal contract with the agent. The principal then entrusts the agent with the decision to act on the market, since he does not have sufficient information to do so himself.


The methodological framework is based on a research-intervention, the objective being to co-produce knowledge with the field studied, and to build a tool aiming at identifying and exploiting knowledge asymmetries. 42 interviews were conducted with actors in the new housing market and then analyzed with the Sphinx™ software.

Subsequently, a first phase of implementation of the tool took place in my company, IFIC Groupe Immobilier, in order to improve it following feedback from the field and to evaluate its managerial impact.

To go further...

  • Vaincre l'ubérisation par l'asymétrie de connaissances et la rente cognitive, EMS Editions, 2020.

  • "La rente cognitive, une arme stratégique pour vaincre l'ubérisation", article co-authored with Jean-Philippe Denis, published in The Conversation France, January 6, 2020

  • "La rente cognitive, une valeur refuge en temps de crise", published in Management & Data Science, May 12, 2020

  • "Du bon usage de la rente cognitive en temps de crise", chapter published in the book coordinated by Michel Kalika, L'impact de la crise sur le management, EMS editions, 2020.

  • "Le prix DBA : le positionnement de l'agent immobilier sur le marché du neuf ", video Xerfi Canal.

  • Exploring cognitive rent :a strategy for countering algorithms, Management&Data Science, vol.5, n°1.

Article translated from French with


See also...

The presentation of the article in video by Sébastien Bourbon


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