At my last consulting job, I had a lengthy and memorable conversation with an agent in my office, a veteran of the local market. Eventually, the topic turned to technology.
He began lamenting the loss of the real estate industry as he knew it, the one of cold calls and thick listing books. With technology playing an increasingly prominent role in the business, he felt that he was falling behind other, less experienced agents, and was unable to service a new generation of tech-savvy clients.
When I pulled out my smart phone to show him its advantages, I realized that he was unaware he could view emails on one. I hardly had time for surprise – moments later, a colleague from marketing handed him a stack of listings he requested they print, since this was still his primary method of viewing them.
For all the money that pours into real estate, brokers are generally not early adopters of new technology. Why is this the case? Could it be that the industry’s median age skews a bit higher than most professions, with the average age of the NAR member reportedly 56 years old in 2011? Or is that agents are caught up in the grueling demands of their day-to-day business?
Real Estate Agents and Technology
The aversion to new technology comes from a fear of distraction. Mental clarity can be a scarce commodity in the field due to the independent nature of most brokers’ business; many agents are tasked with singlehandedly juggling the positions of CEO, CFO and CCO, as well as secretary, caterer and stager.
Brokers may fear that integrating new technology into their operations will only muddle the mind more. Others may have a client set whose lack of familiarity with technology fits theirs perfectly, and a steady stream of past clients’ referrals makes them complacent about the stream of innovation that the most competitive among us are discovering.
But, as this is a highly lucrative field with a relatively low barrier of entry, the real estate agents like my former co-worker face a slew of competition, both from new personnel and from innovative approaches to providing clients with the information and expertise that keeps the industry afloat.
Most of the change we’ll see is still in development, and so agents have not yet taken a substantial loss at the hands of these platforms. At the same time, clients are getting savvier. Recent data from the National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers shows the typical age of first-time homebuyers is now 30, down from 32 in 2006, with 95 percent of individuals under 44 using the Internet in their home search. It seems that brokers will be forced to embrace technology or will be left behind.
This is not to say that brokers as a group are technologically inept. A few of the most prominent innovations in technology have been successfully integrated into the brokerage world – you’d be hard-pressed to find an agent who doesn’t have an email address or use the MLS online (though I did manage the latter).
Similarly, smartphones and tablets have become ubiquitous at showings and offices alike. But most agents are still using technology like a consumer, and not as a shrewd business owner. Moving forward, the most successful brokers wiIll be those who can recognize the gaps in the market and use technology to efficiently capitalize on them. The loyal clients will remain with those who can harness these tools to demonstrate the value of their experience. The agent as we know them will not disappear, but they must evolve.
Therefore, my future columns will focus on how agents can use technology to better their business – more importantly, where, how and why they should implement these tools. I don’t advocate following every shift in the field, but carefully selecting and integrating the technology that would best serve your business model. We are now nearing the end of the slow period for the industry.
I recommend using this time to develop one facet of your business that is lacking – perhaps you can upload your client email list into a program like Mailchimp to maintain contacts, organize your resources’ contact information into spreadsheets that can be sent to clients or finally get around to creating that Facebook business page.
Aaron has sold over $200 million in real estate assets and has managed a portfolio of over 1600 multi-family units, working for several large property management companies as well as for Exit Realty and Keller Williams Realty. Recently, he has focused his efforts on using his breadth of experience to act as consultant for a variety of real estate businesses, including individual residential brokers across the country, national property management firms, and real estate technology start-ups. Find him on https://twitter.com/aaronwoodman and http://about.me/aaronwoodman.