The brokerage decision: To iBuy or not to iBuy?

by Meg White

The pressure to constantly offer new tech tools to attract both agents and consumers is a common one for brokerages. Indeed, in the National Association of Realtors’ 2019 Profile of Real Estate Firms study, 46 percent of all firms cited keeping up with technology as one of the biggest challenges facing their firm in the next two years.

And real estate brands large and small have a particularly big question facing them in terms of iBuyers: Should they offer their own iBuyer platform to ensure listing agents have all the tools necessary to win clients?

It seems every other week another brokerage brand announces its in-house answer to iBuyers. In our cover story, you’ll hear from Gayln Ziegler, director of operations at Keller Offers, about why Keller Williams jumped on this train. But there are many more examples; earlier this month, Realogy announced their RealSure program, which gives sellers with qualifying properties a cash offer immediately upon listing, and allows that seller to make an offer on another home before their current one is sold based on the cash they’re being offered. Redfin and eXp are also trying their hands at iBuying, though in different ways.

RedfinNow works much like a traditional iBuyer program, though in addition to paying for repairs, sellers must pay closing costs and a 7 percent service fee. Meanwhile, eXp’s Express Offers program allows agents to submit properties to a group of institutional buyers to see if anyone bites.

The eXp program utilizes what one might call an “iBuyer lite” model: something that emphasizes the technology tools and value proposition of a particular brokerage brand specifically to sellers, without actually buying homes. There are a few local examples of this model, such as @properties’ soon-to-be-announced partnership with Curbio, a company that uses virtual estimates to help sellers make home improvements before putting their homes on the market. Also, Baird & Warner rolled out a new service last month called Buyside, which tells sellers whether or not buyers are looking for homes like theirs. The platform combines data from Baird & Warner listings with activity from major search portals to paint a picture of the demand for a particular property.

Dean Rouso, vice president of sales development for Baird & Warner in La Grange, said Buyside can help agents walk their seller clients through their options when they’re facing the need to make a lot of home upgrades. “It actually will show them how many buyers there are in specific areas and specific types of homes. What kind of demand is there if they put their home on the market?” he said. Taking into account this base demand, the site features a sliding scale in terms of what condition the home is in. Sellers with a home that’s currently in fair condition can “move it up to good or excellent and see if it’s worth putting money into it.”

Still, even if an agent’s brokerage doesn’t have a specific tool to help sellers examine their options, Rouso said he’s seen savvy agents in areas of the country where iBuyers are active come up with their own solutions. “The smart agents, what they’re saying is, ‘I have an iBuyer program too. They’re investors,’” he said. He advises agents get together with colleagues and “create an investor pool, and whenever you have somebody who’s interested in selling as-is and quickly, send an eblast out to that pool.”

If and when iBuyers do come to Chicagoland (emphasis on the -land; Rouso predicts these companies will try their hand at the more homogenous market of the suburbs first), the key for agents will be to play around with the algorithms so that they “know what the seller is seeing” and can be fully prepared for their listing presentation. “It’s almost become the new Zestimate,” Rouso said of the iBuyer offer. That way, “the agent’s walking in there with their eyes wide open.”

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