This month’s National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Power Broker Roundtable discusses the evolution of the industry’s “new normal.”
Christina Pappas, District Sales Manager, The Keyes Company, Miami, Fla.; Liaison for Large Firms & Industry Relations, NAR
Sherry Chris, CEO, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Madison, N.J.
Joan Docktor, President, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS®, Devon, Pa.
Long Doan, CEO, Co-Founder, Realty Group MN, Coon Rapids, Minn.
Christina Pappas: Everything old is new again. The saying comes from the lyrics of a Peter Allen song originated nearly 40 years ago, but the words were never truer than they are today, especially in the real estate industry, which has changed and reinvented itself over and over since the term “REALTOR®” was first coined way back in 1916.
So what exactly is traditional real estate? Is it relevant in today’s world? What do we mean by “the new normal”—and where is the industry heading? For answers—and some very well-informed interpretations—we’ll be speaking with three industry leaders who are positioned on the forefront of change. Sherry, you’ve been a real estate innovator through several cycles of change. What do you see as today’s new normal?
Sherry Chris: Well, I can’t go back to 1916, but I have been around long enough to see how the industry has turned upside down with the advent of modern technology. In the early days of technology application, consumers would search our websites on their own and perhaps eventually call an agent. Today, we can give our agents the edge through the use of predictive modeling. We can use Smart Bots. We can match up artificial intelligence (AI) with a treasure trove of deep, rich data to determine the habits and patterns of potential buyers and sellers, so that the agent can be the first to reach out with exactly what that consumer is looking for. That’s the direction we are taking, and we’re investing heavily in the effort. But to speak to your “everything old is new again” reference, Christina, the truth is that regardless of the impact technology is making, the agent was, is, and should be the trusted advisor at the center of every transaction.
Joan Docktor: I agree. Today’s new normal combines the best of traditional real estate—that is, building relationships and giving every consumer the best possible buying or selling experience—with everything that technology can offer to accommodate and advance those goals. We are using AI to make our agent CRMs smarter—to give our agents more and better information and to keep them front and center with consumers. We’re also in the process of developing Chat Bots, or Smart Bots, to reside online and answer consumer questions 24/7—and, more important, to connect online searchers with knowledgeable, live agents.
Long Doan: Of course, technology has dramatically changed the way real estate is practiced today, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. In my new normal, keeping the agent front and center means more than providing tools; it means creating an environment where the broker works for the agent, and not the other way around. Our goal is to provide a business platform that includes technology, as well as marketing support and coaching, to help every agent become the CEO of his or her own business—and we are turning the traditional commission structure on its ear with a 100 percent commission and a flat fee. In my view, that’s the way to produce dedicated and competitive agents who perform at peak levels.
CP: There’s another way the industry is changing, and it has to do with physical footprint, both in terms of space and layout. Shrinking office space was a natural byproduct of the last industry slowdown, but what may have begun as an economic need is giving us a new-normal benefit. In our offices, for example, cubicles are becoming a thing of the past in favor of open spaces—almost like a Starbucks atmosphere—that are flexible and that definitely create a more congenial business setting.
LD: I think that back when cell phones went viral, and everybody became mobile, many agents seemed to want to skip the office in favor of working from home. But now, agents are coming back because they miss that interaction. Part of my approach is making the office environment so valuable, so compelling in terms of support, sharing and mentoring, that agents want to be there whenever they’re not out selling real estate.
JD: That’s a good thing, because real estate is first and foremost a people business, both in terms of office culture and in building client relationships. But as more business is transacted online, the new normal also means we need to be more focused than ever on security. Hackers become more wily every day, and many consumers don’t realize just how vulnerable they are. As brokers, we need to have two-step email authentications and other online security measures in place to help keep consumer information and all our data as safe and secure as possible.
SC: And yet all of that is in the background, as far as consumers are concerned—security, data-mining, even Smart Bots. All most consumers want to know—even millennials, who are the most tech-savvy and who make up the largest segment of homebuyers today—when the rubber meets the road is that their agent is there for them, face-to-face, throughout every phase of their transaction. In that way, traditional real estate hasn’t changed…and I doubt that it ever will.
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