As someone who runs a tech company serving real estate agents, Jack Markham knows it’s not easy for this group to hunker down to implement new tools. That’s why the general manager of the Constellation Real Estate Group said the period of rapid change necessitated by the novel coronavirus pandemic has been stressful, but overall positive, for many brokers.
“This has been a good eye-opener for a lot of agents,” he said, noting that many are asking questions such as “‘Do I have the right tools to go compete with some of these companies like Zillow or an iBuyer situation?’”
Of course, few of these new tools are free, and Markham noted that agents and brokerages will need to look carefully at what they do and do not need as Chicagoland transitions back to work.
So, what will stick, and what will fade away?
Virtual office meetups
One change that Bill Gill, designated managing broker of Baird & Warner’s Naperville office, plans on sticking with is online sales meetings. He said that, since the lockdown, even the worst attended virtual meeting has been better attended than any of his in-person offerings. In addition to bringing more associates to the table each week, the ability to share screens and links has made Google Hangouts indispensable, he said. “I don’t ever see returning to a traditional sales meeting,” he said. “This is too efficient.”
Plus, there’s an extra bonus when it comes to special guests like his company’s CEO. “Steve Baird could theoretically pop in at every meeting,” he said.
Markham said his company has gone all-in on Microsoft’s Teams software to stay connected internally. But that doesn’t mean he was sold on the idea prior to the lockdown orders. “Whether you’re a brokerage or a tech company like us, you kind of lose that engagement of the employees,” he said. “I was really nervous shutting down our office. … A lot of our business relies on that energy.” He has since changed his tune, and recommends virtual hangout rooms, online games and happy hours to keep engagement strong.
Showings with feet in both worlds
While he doesn’t think in-person open houses will disappear as a sales tactic, Gill does see them changing in response to the upheaval caused by the pandemic. “The open house of the future is going to be a hybrid,” he said. An agent might kick off the open house with a live social media stream, showing off the key features of a listing on their phone. Gill suggested they might end the stream by saying something like, “By the way, I’ll be here until 4 p.m. today if you want to swing by and see it in person.”
While Gill said this technique may bring in “a lot of eyeballs” online, it also serves other purposes for agents. They can save that video on social media as an example for future sellers of how they embrace technology as a tool to sell a home. Also, Gill has seen some interesting collaborations between agents and lenders to show off a home, using the tool of authentic conversation to build excitement.
Fewer print ads, more AI
Markham predicted fewer agents will invest in print, billboards and park benches and more will spend marketing dollars on social media and online lead generation.
Aside from tracking return on investment, Markham suggested agents look at the purpose behind any given tool, investing in the ones that connect them to more consumers, allow more potential clients to find them or allow them to remain relevant. “If it’s not in those three buckets, then you have to step back and say, ‘Why do I have this?’” he said.
Artificial intelligence is one potential avenue for these goals, especially as online searches have increased in the last few months. “If a lead is on my website at 3 a.m.,” Markham said, “I need a platform that can have a conversation.”
While some agents might worry about consumers being turned off by bots, Markham said it’s more about handling the very top of the lead generation funnel, not engaging clients in meaningful exchanges. “It’s not necessarily a conversation,” he said. “Eighty percent of the leads that we talk to in this industry really aren’t ready to talk to an agent.”