Real estate-oriented tech tools and apps are easier than ever to access, but the veritable tidal wave of these time-saving digital solutions can be dizzying.
Whether an agent is looking for an app for 3D showings or needs to upgrade their CRM, they will likely find dozens of products to choose from.
Developing an efficient tech stack that adds real value to an agent’s business takes time, thought and a willingness to try new approaches to a rapidly evolving industry.
The first questions Jason Stratton, broker associate with the Klopas Stratton Team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago, asks himself about a new tech product is how user-friendly is it and whether it will make the experience easier for his clients.
“If it doesn’t make the experience easier for my clients, then I have no interest in the product,” Stratton said. “Most of the tech in our business is not going to be on the user side or the client side. When you’re talking tech and real estate, it’s mostly how to get and generate clients and leads.”
Holly Connors, senior broker at @properties Christie’s International Real Estate, said the first thing she looks at when evaluating tech is whether the company is sustainable and will likely still be in business in the next six to eight years.
“Is this a product that we’re going to be able to use on a regular basis, and are we going to integrate with this system, and then the company is going to fall apart …?” she said. “So, we’re looking for software solutions from companies that are going to stay in business and that are going to continue to thrive so that we can grow with them.”
Jackie Mack, vice president of sales and broker associate at Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty in Evanston, focuses on whether a tech product makes the process more seamless and efficient for her clients. Her team evaluates tech together as they find or hear about new tools.
“We talk about it as a team and see if we have a need for it or to implement it,” she said. “We usually try not to implement any kind of new systems until the fall in the spring market. It’s just a crazy time to bring something new to our processes and give it a trial run. We really need a little quieter time than the spring market.”
Staying in touch with CRM
Mack recommends that agents begin building their tech stack with a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that they like using before adding on other tools.
“Start with your CRM, and let everything grow from that,” Mack said. “That’s really your business and your database. So, get one that you like using, learn how to use it and then go from there.”
Mack’s CRM is Realvolve. She likes the platform’s workflow tools, which break the process down and make it easy to assign tasks.
“Say it’s a buyer lead and it’s assigned to a particular buyer’s agent,” Mack said. “They can launch it, and then it reminds them when to call [the client]. It has text messages in there, it has email templates in there. They can just keep in touch without any thought. Then when they’re ready to buy, they go in a different workflow, depending how far out they are. Each one is a little different. And then we have it set up for when something goes under contract, the virtual assistant starts the workflow. And then it reminds the buyer’s agent to turn in earnest money, and it sends the attorneys each other’s information.”
The collaborative search platform Zenlist is the go-to tech tool for Michael Horwitz, designated managing broker and director of sales at Peak Realty Chicago. He values the company’s willingness partner with him and to be flexible with feature requests and training.
“I love tech, and I want a good user experience and just ease of use,” Horwitz said. “So, if the tech is smooth and looks nice but also functions really smoothly, that’s important, too. I want a good user experience and just ease of use. Going back to Zenlist, if there’s something that we don’t love, if there’s a little bug in there or something like that, we can reach out to them and they’ll fix everything. But if they can’t fix it, they’ll tell us why.”
For Teresa Ryan, managing broker at Century 21 Affiliated in Naperville, the big question is whether an app or tech tool is going to help her save time, make the process more efficient or add value and service for her buyers and sellers.
Ryan’s teams use the Sierra and CINC (Commissions Inc.) CRMs to generate leads. Both CRMs are linked to her website, where potential clients can enter their contact information.
“Each of those lead generation websites have a CRM back end, and when people log, we have their name, their phone number, their email and what they’re looking at,” Ryan said. “We’re able to see what properties or what towns they’re looking at. And then with that, our inside sales agents will follow up with these new leads.”
Stratton uses a CRM that he built himself, explaining that the software products typically function to make it easier to save time organizing information about clients. Agents still have to do the work of engaging with those clients to move the relationship forward.
“When we do 240 transactions a year, it’s easier, in my opinion, to put something together that is tailored to how we harvest our clients and how we want to reach out,” Stratton said. “Gift lists, newsletters, all that stuff, I can build that quicker than purchasing something that doesn’t tailor to exactly what we do.”
Keys to showing properties
While many agents have been embracing new real estate technology for decades now, the pandemic led many to also begin using video chat apps in their business. Like many agents, Mack uses FaceTime and Zoom for video calls with clients. She runs a daily meeting with her staff through Zoom and utilizes the Marco Polo messaging app for video chats and home tours with clients. The app enables users to shoot, store and rewatch videos.
“That’s been super helpful,” Mack said of Marco Polo. “If we just use FaceTime, you have to schedule with them and that’s it. But then we sometimes FaceTime them or Zoom them, and then they’ll ask for a Marco Polo because they can rewatch it, and they don’t need as much bandwidth because it’s a one-way video chat.”
Ryan has invested in a Matterport 3D camera that she uses to create virtual home tours of properties. She uses drone photography to present the property’s exterior, how it is situated and what the surrounding neighborhood looks like.
“When you go inside the home and shoot the photography of the interior of the home and it provides a 3D visual tour of the home,” Ryan said, “that’s cutting-edge technology, because a client can sit in front of their computer, click on the link and control where they’re touring through the home with the arrows. It saves the agent time and it saves the seller time, because hopefully by the time they get to view the home in person, they’ve already seen the 3D tour.”
The various apps and tech tools agents use — from CRM platforms and e-signature tools like DocuSign to software for putting together 3D tours and displaying digital images of a property — can become cumbersome to manage. Collaboration platforms such as Remine, Monday.com and Zenlist help streamline the integration of those tools.
Holly Connors uses Remine, which Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED) provides to its members. The big data tool provides detailed information on who is thinking about selling and where they are likely to look for a new home.
“We’ve been able to go from 125 transactions to 250 transactions because we’ve been able to automate so much of our processes that our team has freed up hours upon hours in the day to simplify what we’re doing,” Connors said. “And our clients have found that this simplification has made their process, their expectations, their experience, also very clean and enjoyable.”
Stratton considers Zenlist the most helpful tool he has adopted into his business. The collaboration app functions as a user-friendly MLS that facilitates communication between clients and agents and enables clients to use their personal devices to search for properties on their own time.
“I use the desktop version of it,” Stratton said. “It’s easier for me to see everything because of the amount of data that’s coming to me versus one user. But my clients love the mobile application of it. And it also is like a built-in text thread, so you can DM directly off the app and send listings and all that.”
Horwitz also makes extensive use of Zenlist for its communication capabilities. Clients can flip through photos, look through listing details and save the listing.
“They can say, ‘Hey, Michael, we want to go see this place this weekend,’” Horwitz said. “I can comment back directly in there so you can chat. It’ll send me notifications. The nice thing is as my team continues to grow, I can loop in another broker on my team to view that. You can loop in multiple buyers into the same field, like if you have a married couple or a family that wants to be on the same feed.”
Apps and software can sometimes seem like an easy fix for agents who are not satisfied with their business. Horwitz would advise his younger self not to become too overwhelmed by the options available.
“Everybody has their own method of learning,” Horwitz said. “Find what works for you, and stay consistent. If you’re consistent, that’s what’s going to drive results. That’s what’s going to keep you organized. I think if you try to overdo it, you’re just going to confuse yourself, and you might hit a little bit of analysis paralysis. Keep yourself consistent with whatever works best for you and your method of learning.”
Holly Connors, Senior Broker, MB Team, @properties | Christie’s International Real Estate
Michael Horwitz, Managing Broker & Director of Sales, Peak Realty Chicago
Jackie Mack, Vice President and Broker Associate, Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty
Jason Stratton, Broker Associate, Klopas Stratton Team | BHHS Chicago
Teresa Ryan, Managing Broker, Century 21 Affiliated