Realtors Become Agents of Change

FOR YEARS, NEW TECH COMPANIES HAVE BEEN THOUGHT OF AS THE ‘DISRUPTERS’ IN THE REAL ESTATE INDUSTRY. BUT SAVVY REALTORS ARE POSITIONING THEMSELVES AS THE AGENTS OF CHANGE.

The current market shift from buyers to sellers generates the most attention, but the number of sales and pace of price appreciation are only one swell in the wave of transformation rolling through the real estate industry. Technology is typically hailed as the disrupter, but changing demographics, new lifestyle aspirations and evolving buyer preferences are all at play in today’s real estate landscape.

“If you ask anyone that has been in the business more than 10 years, they say ‘here we go again.’  More paperwork, more platforms, more new companies, more new agents. Yet, ultimately real estate is the same. Our clients require handholding, advice, and moral support, deals get negotiated, and transactions finalize or fall apart. Yes, there are slight shifts in the marketplace, but generally, it still functions the same,” shares Lucio Bernal, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Palm Springs, who is also an expert trainer with the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing.

What is changing is almost every other aspect of real estate from tools to facilitate broker client relationships to virtual reality apps enabling buyers to envision making a prospective property their own. Increasingly agents are looking to their brokerages to keep pace with technology. “They are leaning on their brokerages, more than ever, to help arm them with tools, from digital marketing to smart, proactive customer relationship management systems (CRMs) that will keep them cutting edge, as well as those they can’t afford to leverage on their own,” says Stephanie Anton, president of Luxury Portfolio International. Additionally, affiliate groups like Luxury Portfolio and major brands have amped up marketing capabilities so agents can easily create a cohesive campaign.

There might be a technology revolution taking place in real estate, but market shifts are reinforcing the importance of the agent. “Technology has always been the present. It’s how you use it that benefits you the most,” shares Bernal. “The perfect example is: If you are dealing with a consumer, they are more likely to use you based on reputation and recognition than whether you know a certain app or technology platform. Technology should be used as a resource and compliment your ability to get face-to-face and maintain contact with a consumer.”

At this time last year, blockchain and the impact of virtual reality and artificial intelligence on real estate were being debated. Today, the chatter is about portals morphing from search engines to places to buy and sell homes, a new classification the industry characterizes as iBuyers. Opendoor, founded in 2013, started the trend, followed by others including Offerpad and Knock. Zillow and Redfin have also introduced iBuying in some markets. iBuyers purchase consumer’s homes outright using analytics that enable them to come up with a price based on the home’s perceived value, usually within days. Unlike homes sought by flippers, these are not troubled properties and offers reportedly are close to the value estimation. Other portals are beefing up offerings for consumers, adding mortgage and title services. Startups such as Purple Bricks offer a new twist on the flat-fee concept.

Investor dollars from venture capital and hedge funds are flowing into real estate, fueling many new ventures, which is another change potentially revamping the industry. “Everyone is investing in technology to disrupt or change real estate,” says Mark Choey, co-founder of Climb Real Estate, a San Francisco brokerage, which was acquired by Realogy’s subsidiary NRT in 2016. The real estate industry is rapidly shifting, and innovation is not just welcome, it’s desperately needed,” said founder Chris Lim, whose background is in marketing. Choey hails from the tech sector. Climb was the first brokerage to work with Matterport and continues to incubate emerging apps and work with new vendors.

ENABLING THE AGENT

Among traditional brokers, Keller Williams and RE/MAX are often noted for new tech initiatives, but almost every brand and national affiliate group is boosting technology offerings and platforms, often through relationships with providers and new tech venders including virtual staging, enhanced CRM and 3D tours and imaging. Technology ultimately benefits consumers, but traditional brands and affiliates say their focus is enabling their agents to do a better job.

“Everything has shifted in many different areas from the brokerage level, the buyer level, who the buyers are, what they are looking for,” says Sally Forster Jones, executive director, Luxury Estates, Compass. “I think there is a shift in the way that brokers are functioning. They are more innovative with more technology and more marketing as opposed to the older traditional real estate firms.

“Consumers care about responsiveness. They care about the fact that if they reach out to an agent, whether it be on their website or mobile app the agents gets back to them instantly, and technology can help with that,” says Marilyn Wilson, founding partner of real estate consultants WAV Group and also a founder of RETechnology.com.

“Technology has always been the present. It’s how you use it that benefits you the most. The perfect example is: If you are dealing with a consumer, they are more likely to use you based on reputation and recognition than whether you know a certain app or technology platform. Technology should be used as a resource and compliment your ability to get face-to-face and maintain contact with a consumer.”

Lucio Bernal

Broker Associate, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage

Tapped by Google to create a virtual staging app using augmented reality, Sotheby’s added Curate to agent toolboxes last year. Not only can a homeowner visualize a home before buying, but a partnership with a home furnishings company allows potential buyers to virtually furnish the home as well.

“A depth of understanding of what a property has is really important to consumers. The other thing that consumers are responding to online are floorplans,” says Wilson.

GETTING REAL WITH VIRTUAL

In the last year, GeoVC, a tech start-up offering 3D immersive tours and floorplans that can be created using next generation smartphones, integrated virtual staging, exterior 3D scans, and aerial 360-degree panoramas captured with a drone with interior 3D tours. “Outdoor imagery is captured using a regular drone, automatically processed into a 3D model, and integrated together with interior virtual tour. Such an exclusive experience will differentiate luxury properties with beautiful facades and roofs, and spacious lots,” shares Anton Yakubenko, co-founder and CEO of GeoCV.

“Luxury has really turned into personalization now,” comments Thompson. Tools like Curate, RoOomy and virtual staging apps enhance opportunities for personalization. Thompson explains: “Someone can walk into a home and say, ‘not my style,’ but it doesn’t matter because I have the tools that allow me to make it feel like what I want it to be.”

Even Compass, which touts itself as “The first modern real estate platform, paring the

industry’s top talent with technology,” says technology is there to benefit the agent. “Compass is building for the agent. Every program, tool, and service is (created) with the agent in mind. Many of the other real estate technology companies out there are working to improve the consumer experience and not focusing on the agent. We believe that by empowering the agent, consumer experience will be improved,” says Sarah Vallarino, head of West Region Communications at Compass.

“Talking to agents, the message we consistently heard was ‘give us technology,’” says Thompson. “They didn’t necessarily know what that technology was just that they needed it. They understood that the industry was changing, and consumer behavior was changing. They know because they’re the boots on the ground and so they can feel the shift in consumer behavior.”

As markets shift, agents are retooling, once again looking at how they do business and what skills and knowledge will be required. “It’s always either somewhat of a buyer’s market. It’s somewhat of a seller’s market. You just have to have your tools in your tool shed and the mindset to be nimble enough to adjust as you read the tealeaves, ” is Wilson’s suggestion.

“Luxury has really turned into personalization now,” comments Thompson. Tools like Curate, Ro0my and virtual staging apps enhance opportunities for personalization. Thompson explains: “Someone can walk into a home and say ‘not my style,’ but it doesn’t matter to me because I have the tools that allow me to make it feel like what I want it to be.”

AGENT PIVOTS

“Many long-time successful agents are being the clever, resourceful entrepreneurs that they are and changing with the market as the market shifts,” says Anton. “Agents today talk about how much of their time and value derives from being an educator for their clients. They partner with their clients to keep them armed with as much information, insights and insider activity as they can, so when it comes time, for example, for an agent to recommend a price reduction, the client is completely aware of the statistics, days on market, what is moving and what isn’t. Nobody wants to have an overpriced home that is sitting and not selling even in a hot market.”

“Today, clients will attempt to collect their information on their own, perhaps from incorrect sources, so agents report pivoting, now more than ever, to spend a lot of their time educating their clients,” she says.

Regarding slowing sales or price appreciation, Anton says: “I highly recommend agents tell the truth, focus on educating their following/clients, and in the process, let their own voice be heard and be themselves. If the market is cooling, share the stats and manage expectations. It’s not the time to be overly positive and cheery as you will come off inauthentic and salesy. Focus on the facts, insights and provide professional guidance.”

“Agents have to stay on top of what is available to them and the consumer. It is imperative to be able to explain the data, to have polished negotiation skills, and to know when to assist the consumer in processing that information,” says Bernal.  

“Agents should take full advantage of all the resources that the brands they work with provide. The majority of agents won’t, and that has never changed. Those that want an edge in the industry recognize that there is value in resources and take advantage of some of them. For most agents, resources are overwhelming, and therefore don’t take the time to learn and use them,” says Bernal.

Thompson recalls, “We had to dig in and find out what exactly is it that they (agents) need that will make a difference for them in their day-to-day because they think, you know, there are lots of real estate brands that tout themselves as technology companies, but they really don’t have anything really different.”

“Everything has shifted in many different areas from the brokerage level, the buyer level, who the buyers are, what they are looking for. I think there is a shift in the way that brokers are functioning. They are more innovative with more technology and more marketing as opposed to the older traditional real estate firms.”

Sally Forster Jones

Executive Director, Luxury Estates, Compass

EYE ON THE FUTURE

Mark Choey from Climb says, “I think you’re going to see a lot of change in the next year or two,” most likely from many directions. Choey is head of Climb’s Innovation Lab. Having an innovation lab, particularly for a small company, is in itself an innovation. “You’re going to have some business models that are going to evolve, like Opendoor and Knock, that are really going to change the way people buy and sell homes, but it’s not gonna change everything, right. You’re going to have Redfin, Zillow and others come out with tools and things that are going to attempt to either reduce the commission or to simplify to transaction. On the other hand,” he says, “you’re going to see traditional real estate firms arming themselves with technology.”

And while some tout themselves as technology companies, Thompson doesn’t see traditional and technology as being mutually exclusive terms. “You don’t have to be one or the other. People think of Sotheby’s as a heritage brand because we’re been around for close to 300 years now. But a heritage brand can also be tech savvy. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

Looking ahead, Bernal says, “The real estate industry has to take both a broad look and a hyper-local look at where the marketplace is based on data and individual perspectives. We say that real estate is local, yet there are many determining factors that create a web of interconnected behaviors throughout the world of real estate.”

Consider Los Angeles, Manhattan and Miami, where the impact of fewer international buyers extends beyond sales and prices. Post-recession, international buyers became a market force determining  what was being developed, locations and price points. On the West Coast, view properties and contemporary architecture were particularly favored by Asian buyers, and new builds were often geared to these buyers. Now many L.A. buyers, particularly in higher price points, are local or hail from the U.S. and have different expectations of luxury with walkable locations and neighborhoods taking precedence over views. “That’s a shift and it will continue to be a shift because we have a lot of properties coming on the market geared toward that international buyer,” says Jones.

The desire for the ability to walk to shops and restaurants is happening across all price points, according to Jones, and these new preferences are not limited to L.A. Walkability has been associated with urban settings, but increasingly this characteristic is being applied to suburbs, towns and master-planned communities.

Traffic and gridlock also add to new preferences for locations. In the not too distant future, traffic itself may be seen as even more of a disruptor than it is now, changing where people live and property types.

Photo of Lucio Bernal by Cherie Johnson for Moncherie Fotography. Photo of Sally Forster Jones by Lauren Hurt. Photo of Kevin Thompson courtesy of Sotheby’s International Realty.

The Michael Saunders & Company leadership team and agents recently attended the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® (LeadingRE) Conference Week in Miami, where the company was recognized with multiple awards and honors. The top names in real estate are round up at the Conference Week to focus on what drives success in today’s market and offers targeted programs, educational sessions and impactful networking opportunities. This once-a-year chance to experience the power of the world’s largest community of quality independent real estate firms was held in the extraordinary setting of the Fontainebleau, Miami Beach.
At the conference’s annual awards ceremony held to recognize achievements across the affiliation, CEO and Founder Michael Saunders was honored with a Hall of Fame Award, the top tier in leadership recognition, for instrumental contributions to the organization and its affiliates. Saunders served on the LeadingRE Board of Directors for 17 years and was Chair for two years. She served on numerous committees and task forces, participated in training workshops and discussion groups and served as a mentor and recruiter for other members in the network.  Currently she serves on the Luxury Portfolio Global Advisory Board.

In addition to Saunders’ Hall of Fame Award, Michael Saunders & Company won the Best Property Search Award and the Award of Excellence for Outgoing Referral Production. The company received additional nominations for its work during 2016, including nominations for Best Overall Website Award, Award of Excellence for Outgoing Sales Production, Award of Excellence for Equivalent Outgoing Sales Production, Diamond Award, OurWorld Community Engagement Award and Most Innovative Office Design Award.
“We are deeply honored to receive these awards and recognitions, particularly among the best names in real estate and the world’s leading independent brokerages. This recognizes our company’s involvement in the industry, our willingness to embrace emerging trends, technologies and tools, and our commitment to the exceptional service that we offer our customers,” said Saunders. “Our affiliations with LeadingRE and Luxury Portfolio are complementary components in our success, helping us build valuable relationships with affiliate partners from around the globe and surrounding us with international market leaders who share their trusted insights and experience.”

Matt Drews, Director of Commercial Real Estate for Michael Saunders & Company, was a featured speaker on a panel discussion at the conference. In addition, two key members of the Michael Saunders & Company team served in LeadingRE leadership positions in 2016. David Gumpper, Chief Technology Officer of Michael Saunders & Company, was the MarTech Board Director. MarTech is the Marketing and Technology arm of LeadingRE. Susie Rosario, Michael Saunders & Company Director of Business Development, was a 2016 Mentor Program Graduate.
“Having been in real estate for more than 40 years, I am convinced that the connections we make and share, our relationships with others, are truly what make a difference,” said Saunders. “In addition to the significant contributions of Matt, David and Susie, we had many agents take time out of their busy schedules to attend the conference, participating in such events as the Performance Summit and the Luxury Portfolio Summit. This is a unique opportunity for them to connect, learn and collaborate – which ultimately is a tremendous benefit for our customers.”

LeadingRE was founded in 1997, with the purpose of creating a network of the best locally- and regionally-branded firms focused on raising the bar in real estate. It has grown to have affiliates in more than 4,000 offices across nearly 60 countries. LeadingRE affiliates encompass the industry’s top-rated luxury real estate programs, as well as more #1 market share companies than any other network. Luxury Portfolio International®, the luxury face of LeadingRE, is a comprehensive program that markets the finest luxury properties and brokerages worldwide.
To learn more about Michael Saunders & Company, call (888) 552-5228 or visit www.michaelsaunders.com. For more information about LeadingRE, visit www.leadingre.com.
 

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