Some technological advances in real estate are driven by buyer and seller demands.
We know that buyers shop for homes for sale on the Internet, but I think we make too many assumptions about how they search.
We assume that buyers prefer certain websites, or that they know how to search for homes on the Internet, and we assume that they are aware of what their options are.
We may also assume that because so many people use Facebook that somehow they must be using it to search for real estate or a real estate agent and that they will also try Pinterest and Foursquare.
Just because buyers have Facebook accounts and smartphones doesn’t mean they will use them in their home search — or that they know how to use them. We know that not all apps that are downloaded get used.
It could be because I live and work in Minnesota instead of California, but I am finding that part of my job when working with buyers is to introduce them to real estate-related mobile apps, and to educate them as to which real estate websites will give them the most accurate information and how to use them.
As a kind of side project I have also shown clients how to use various social media tools, and have taught sellers how to share information about their home through Facebook.
Most people don’t have an awareness of real estate websites and apps until they are actually looking for a home. Vendors may tell us that a product is what buyers want or that it is better for buyers, but those claims are hyperbole — or maybe what we call "marketing."
It is now part of my job to test real estate apps that are made for consumers, and I check websites for data accuracy and ease of use. I know how to use Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and the best local websites, and I can show my buyers how to use them and advise them as to which sites have the best and most current information.
Do your buyers understand that they may find a home for sale on Zillow and that it may be listed for a different price than the same home on Trulia or on the local brokerage website or Realtor.com?
Do you teach them how to find the correct price or instruct them to ask you for the correct price if there is any confusion?
Have they been taught that on some sites, "featured" homes come up first and that they may actually be missing their dream house because it isn’t featured?
Buyers need to understand that some sites are missing many of the homes that are on the market. How would they know which sites have the most accurate data unless someone explained it to them — along with how listings are syndicated and used for advertising?
I use our multiple listing service to show buyers and sellers actual homes that sold, and how much they sold for. Then I go in and show them the Zillow "Zestimate" and the county assessor’s valuation so that they can get a feel for home valuations and understand how inaccurate they can be.
When my buyers are ready to make an offer on a home, I want them to be open to looking at some comparables and to have a good understanding of local home values as they relate to "Zestimates" and other valuations so they can make an intelligent offer.
Most buyers want to be engaged in the process and do research. Anyone can look up information. Where agents add value is that we understand the information well enough to know if it is accurate. My buyers count on me to be able to answer the questions that can only be answered by someone with experience.
We assume that buyers with smartphones know as much or more than we do about smartphone real estate apps, but they really don’t. It doesn’t even always occur to some to use their phone to assist in a home search. The buyers who find apps on their own usually need to experiment a bit before they find one they like. I can save them time by showing them apps and going over the pros and cons.
It doesn’t matter to me how my buyers find a home. I can add value and help them avoid confusion and reduce their exposure to bad information by educating them on the home search sites and tools and keeping up to date on the sites and the mobile apps.
There is nothing new about any of this. It has always been part of a real estate agent’s job to educate buyers. We shouldn’t neglect teaching them about the resources on the Internet and on mobile devices.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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