Will New Technology Negate the Use for a Real Estate Professional?

Maybe not, but there are tech products in the works that hope to shake things up.

Written by Steve Murray, REAL Trends publisher


At a conference, during a discussion about listing portals, a presenter offered the following two comments:

“We should never equate ‘hits’ with true customer service.”

“I don’t think any of us should feel comfortable turning over the first ‘hello’ with a customer to any party outside our firms.”

In the context of an overall discussion about e-commerce, we must remember that a great majority of housing consumers still value the relationship with a real estate agent—particularly when that agent is experienced, knowledgeable and cares about helping them.

The 2014 REAL Trends/HarrisInteractive study and the National Association of Realtors® research show that consumers value the service a competent agent brings to the table. When you think about marketing online, the importance of having customer inquiries come to you and your firm’s people should be paramount.

The Problem Begins Here

It doesn’t end there, and this is where the problem begins. Most firms still do not have systems in place to ensure that customers’ inquiries are answered in a timely and customer-service-friendly manner. Most firms are still struggling with the internal issues of how to do this without infringing on what agents think is their prerogative—to take all calls on their listings. Most firms honor this without charging the listing agent a fee. The best firms give the listing agent a fair first shot at responding; then build systems to redirect the customer if the listing agent is unresponsive. However, all of this is another story. Reread those concerns above and think what you think you and your agents ought to be doing to answer them.  That is the best place to start.


The Do-it-yourselfers

In the book “Game Changers,” we examined how technology would soon enable customers to transact the purchase or sale of a home entirely online. We commented that the technologies necessary to do so were already available. The market is ripe for someone to piece it all together, from home search to closing, in one easy-to-use platform.

At the recent Tech Crunch Disrupt 2014 conference, a new firm named AllRe announced that it had built this system. They also announced that they wanted to disrupt the real estate industry. The founders indicated that a seller can use available data to price his or her home, market it through portals, show the home, negotiate with buyers, link to a closing services firm (which they chose not to name), and link with a lender so as to facilitate a mortgage. The founders do admit that home inspections remain something that buyers and sellers will have to figure out on their own.

Technological advances are wonderful, and most consumers would agree that living has been made easier (perhaps) because of the Internet, mobile devices and access to the world of information and entertainment. Certainly Google and Amazon are two great examples of technology firms that are making things easier in many regards.

We believe the same is true in residential real estate. Listing portals and broker websites are a boon to consumers. Online processing and digital paperless transaction capabilities are wonderful advances for consumers and agents alike. As we have said before, someday someone will put a single platform together that enables buyers and sellers to bypass the use of agents and do it themselves.

AllRe thinks between 10 to 15 percent of sellers and buyers already do this, and have for the past 30 years, without any of today’s advanced technology to aid them. There will always be those who want to go this route, and it could be that AllRe will play a large role in converting this ready-made audience to their system.

AllRe will likely raise a substantial sum of money to back its play (and may have already done so) because many in the investment community think that disrupting the residential industry would be a gold mine.  As many others have already discovered, it is not that easy, but it will be interesting to watch.

Unless and until someone can make buying and selling a home as easy as getting a book from Amazon or ordering up a car from Uber, the likelihood is that the preponderance of buyers and sellers will still desire the assistance of a real estate agent.

No one knows what the technology/real estate interface will look like in 10 or even five years. You cannot just draw lines from the past and expect they will continue on the path forward. This industry, compared to others, remains relatively unscathed by the Internet thus far. The day-to-day interaction between agents and housing consumers has changed little.  How people engage agents to buy and sell is remarkably as it was 20 years ago. The percentages of consumers using an agent and how they chose an agent remain quite similar compared to years’ past. Whether a technology will come along that will truly change, this remains to be seen.