The digital divide among real estate agents seems to be getting bigger all the time.
By digital divide I mean the huge gap between the agents who use technology all day long and those who know about it but don’t really understand how to use most of it.
Last week I got a handwritten offer on one of my listings. Those are still fairly common in my market.
The offer was sent to me via email but it arrived sideways and I had to flip it 90 degrees before I put it in the electronic signature system so that my client could sign it. My clients kind of take it for granted that they won’t have to deal with any paper.
If I had sent an offer that needed to be turned by 90 degrees I would have been asked to send another because many agents don’t have the software or skills needed to fix it.
Creating handwritten offers would slow me down, drive up costs, and there is a much greater potential for errors. The offer I got had errors in it, and some of the blanks were not filled in. As a broker, I would not recruit such an agent.
Most agents know how to use a touch-screen mobile device. But some consider tapping touch screens and pressing buttons to be "tech-savvy." I believe there is a need for basic skills training in the industry, and that it isn’t enough to be able to use the latest mobile app.
There have been a couple of times in the last six months when I have been contacted by buyers or sellers who were represented by other agents because they needed something that amounts to secretarial or clerical work that was beyond their skill level.
In one case a seller contacted me directly because his agent did not know how to open a hyperlink that I sent. Apparently, he forwarded my email directly to the seller. The seller knew what to do with the link, and told me he had no problem with it, but called me with a related question.
A buyer contacted me directly because, for some reason, the agent he was working with could not send me a file that we needed for a transaction, but the buyer could.
I still run into agents who cannot handle email attachments or grab a photograph from a website, or send a link to a client or even open a link in a Web browser.
Those agents are perfect examples of how vast the digital divide has become.
There is a huge gap between the most tech-savvy agents and the least, yet often when there is an educational event we are all put in the same room together and the instructors are told to develop content for the least tech-savvy. That approach doesn’t seem to be helping anyone.
The divide really hits home when I look at the offerings at some of the RE BarCamps — which sometimes offer formal training on how to use the multiple listing service or social media sites to assist those agents who are behind.
Interestingly, the agents who need the most basic training seem to struggle and are frustrated by such sessions.
I recently heard a couple of newer, younger agents complain about all the social media training and how they don’t need it. They said they want some offerings that are more real estate-related, or about technology for their businesses. They already know how to use Facebook and know where to find or learn about the next new thing.
The big brokerages that want to attract and retain the more tech-savvy agents should spend a little more time and money on training for those advanced agents rather than remaining so focused on trying not to leave the rest of the agents behind.
There should be something for everyone, but not necessarily in the same class. There are people who are not going to be able to catch up with new technologies, but if they are good at selling real estate they don’t need to — they can just hire an assistant.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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