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The Path Forward: Remaining Relevant in a Rapidly Changing Real Estate Environment

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By Barbara Pronin

Smart phones have replaced laptops as the mobile professional’s primary sales tool. Apps associated with at least one consumer service company display digital home listings with a link to the nearest agent. REALTORS® are increasingly being rated on popular consumer websites – and eSignatures are quickly becoming the norm. Today’s customer wants all the information all the time, and technology is leveling the playing field in terms of who delivers it best – and fastest.

That is cause for alarm among industry professionals who wonder how much customers will continue to need us in such a spiraling wireless environment. But, noted Houston Association of REALTORS® President Bob Hale at RISMedia’s recent CEO Exchange, “nothing gets created without destroying something” – and in the case of the real estate business, what threatens to be destroyed is the determined effort by organized real estate to remain relevant to consumers.

“The sad fact is that some 50 to 75 percent of customer requests for information are going unanswered,” Hale said. “Consumers are turning elsewhere for information we should be getting to them first – because no matter how much the customer thinks he knows about a property, only the REALTOR® knows the history and backstory of every house in every neighborhood.”

That is critical to the nature of our role, observed RISMedia founder and panel moderator John Featherston. “We need to re-educate customers on the value of what we represent.”

For Barry Redler, chief marketing officer, The Long & Foster Companies, doing so is a no-brainer.

“The broker is the expert,” he said. “We need to position ourselves as experts, and, more importantly, as thought leaders. We need to turn data into compelling stories, make them sharable, and push them out daily to agents and consumers because that kind of insider insight is what makes us not just relevant but indispensable. Relocations and other life changes present us with new opportunities every day. We can’t afford to let inertia or lack of originality turn them into lost opportunities.”

Kevin Levent, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers, agrees. “Consumers need us in good times, when the best properties are scarce and pricey, and in bad times, when FSBOs are harder than ever to market. We need to invent ways to connect with these customers in ways no impersonal website can.”

Being where these customers are may not be as difficult as it sounds.

“Real estate is hardly the only industry where remaining relevant is critical,” said John Heithaus, chief marketing officer for MRIS. “Musicians worry that consumers are downloading iTunes instead of buying CDs. The future simply isn’t what it used to be. It’s time to rethink tools, learn by observing, and mobilize and socialize everything if you are going to catch the eye and ear of the consumer in ways that will pay off in business.”

And the more you know about your customer, the easier to customize your service.

“Consumers try to retain their anonymity for as long as possible,” said Move/REALTOR.com® Vice President of Customer/Industry Development Curt Beardsley. “What brokers need are leads that are generated along with information about the requester.”

To that end, REALTOR.com® has developed a mobile app for Apple products that matches consumers interactively with subscribing brokers, he noted.

It’s one more in a growing arsenal of real estate technology solutions that, paired with traditional sales strategies, can help ensure continuing relevance.

“We can’t be our father’s Oldsmobile anymore,” Featherston said. “The path forward demands education, innovation, new commitment, and aligning ourselves with the right set of partners.”

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