While housing markets rise and fall, one trend that brokers are consistently working to stay on top of is the ever-evolving state of real estate technology.
Ever since the dawn of the dot-com era, the role of the broker has never been the same, with listings and negotiations playing out over the Internet and, eventually, into the mobile devices of buyers and sellers everywhere. Meanwhile, within the modern brokerage, there are customer relationship management tools; translation software programs for communicating with foreign buyers; individual agent websites; and elaborate marketing tactics, such as virtual open houses and overhead drone footage being deployed to showcase properties and neighborhoods.
The advancements have challenged some brokers to stay relevant as many newly empowered customers no longer need them for up-to-date inventory and pricing data. But for those brokers who have embraced technology, they’ve secured significant advantages over the competition.
As his company has grown, Mark Stark—CEO of Americana Holdings, which includes Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brokerages in Nevada, Arizona and California—is continuously updating his IT infrastructure, as well as the marketing platforms that his agents need to communicate with clients and potential customers.
“You don’t separate the broker from that same technology,” Stark says. “We’re more efficient with it.”
According to Stark, smaller brokers who are looking to take that next step and scale their business into a mid-size operation will have a challenge in upgrading their technology because these overhauls can be very expensive.
“I think it’s a challenge, depending on the infrastructure of the company, if they don’t have the means. I think for small brokerages that are trying to be mainstream, it’s tougher,” Stark says. “It’s a lot to change over to new technology.”
Also, with the fast pace of innovation—which seems to generate a new real estate app out of Silicon Valley every week—it’s very hard for brokers to know which tech investments are right for their organization.
Stark says his operations team at Americana Holdings is constantly bombarded with new offers from start-ups, as well as more established tech players who are rolling out new products. With all the noise out there, combined with the pressure to stay competitive, it’s critical for brokers to be smart about their technology.
“You don’t want to always switch to the next shiny object,” Stark explains. Brokers can make more informed decisions with regard to technology by networking at real estate conferences and seeking referrals. They can also learn a lot by discussing the subject with their agents in the field.
“You hear it from your people if it’s not working. Bring that information to your vendor and see if they can improve or adjust,” advises Stark. “We’re agnostic. We just tell our vendors to stay relevant. A fully integrated system is good for about seven years, so if they stay relevant, you can stay with them for a very long time.”
With about 3,000 real estate brokers and agents dependent on his system, Stephen Shivers, the regional technology director at RE/MAX of New Jersey, Inc., knows how important it is to have a dependable network that manages large quantities of data. But one of the most critical aspects of managing such a system at a real estate firm is getting everyone at the organization to learn the technology and use it to its fullest capacity.
“You can give the agents in your brokerage a powerful tool, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll use it. This is an issue that isn’t unique to RE/MAX of New Jersey. I’ve had many of our agents tell me that they’re overwhelmed with the number of tools they could be using…and I’ve seen plenty of agents pay for a platform and never actually implement it,” Shivers says.
New agents at Shivers’ brokerage attend a technology orientation when they’re hired, and in-office training and hands-on classes for some of the advanced features on the platform are made available as well. The key, Shivers says, is not just to teach everyone the mechanics, but to get them to buy into the philosophy.
“We’re rethinking our training. Most of the time, technical training is focused on the how or the steps involved in using a tool, rather than why the agent should use it in the first place,” he explains. “We’ve had greater success when we train on the value of a tool and give real-world successes before giving the step-by-step.”
Shivers adds that automation is also important because it reduces the amount of required input and makes the systems less daunting for new brokers. “Our example is AutoPilot, which we launched earlier this year. AutoPilot creates an agent’s listing marketing for them—flyers, postcards, single property websites, etc.—and emails it directly to them,” Shivers explains. “This isn’t training, but it removes some of that burden when you automate part of an agent’s business. Many modern CRMs offer automated solutions to help you scale your relationships. Brokers that implement these tools can avoid some of the headaches involved with getting an agent to use a system.”
Dennis Walsh, CEO of SellNewHomes.com, a company in Newport Beach, Calif., which trains brokers around the country on many aspects of real estate, says that many of the most successful brokers struggle to keep up with technological advancements, and those that are up to speed often struggle with the learning curves of their agents.
“It’s a big ongoing challenge for brokers to get their agents to embrace technology,” says Walsh. “You have a younger generation that is, of course, very comfortable with technology, and many in the business are older and very successful, and they’ve resisted new tech, so they continue to push back and want to do things the way they’ve always done them.”
To bridge this gap, Walsh offers online training programs that have proven beneficial because the brokers who take part in them can go at their own pace and on their own schedule.
Adopting new technologies has become an integral part of real estate in recent years, and Stark expects the pace of innovation to continue—and possibly even accelerate—over the next decade.
“It will continue to adapt, and it’s really up to the individual brokerages to determine what’s best for their type of business,” says Stark. “You can’t ignore it. As long as you’re not ignoring it, you’re on top of the game.”