Technology still an afterthought for many big brokers

Broker Notebook

Geek image via Shutterstock.Geek image via Shutterstock.

I have enough contact with real estate agents to know that some of them cannot manage their smartphone.

Those who can’t figure it out tell the rest of us that we need to spend less time on technology and more time with people. Or that real estate is a people business.

I wish it were that simple, and that we could have a choice between using modern-day technology or not using it.

Personally, the reason I use technology is to communicate with others. Most days I would rather interact directly with a person.

When I get offers on my listings from agents who are with some local large brokerages, I can tell right away which company the agent is with. The offers all have the same email title, with the phrase “scan from (insert name of brokerage).”

Usually the contracts are sideways or upside down, forcing me to lock the orientation on whichever mobile device I’m using, and then turn the device upside down or sideways to read the offer.

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There are agents and lenders who do not yet understand or embrace electronic signatures.

Most brokerages don’t seem to really understand what an agent needs to know to be competitive in today’s market. If they did, I would see more digital signatures and fewer sideways or upside-down purchase agreements.

My contracts get sent out all neatly typed and electronically signed. The agent from the huge brokerage who receives the contracts prints them, has them signed by hand, scans them and sends them back — stripping away the electronic certificate of authenticity for the signatures.

Part of the problem is that the really big brokerages have in-house office technology experts.

These “experts” are usually the youngest person in the office. Their superpowers include the ability to use a touch screen, and an understanding of Spotify and Vine.

Some of these youngsters have no business acumen, or a clear understanding of how to leverage their shiny device when working with clients.

Being under 30 and able to use a mobile device or set up a Facebook account is about all that it takes to be the office expert in most real estate offices. Brokers or office managers who know nothing about technology see the younger agent — whom they appointed to be the czar of all things technical — as brilliant because they not only have an iPad, but they know how to sync it with iTunes.

Sometimes the office technical czar is not very good at teaching others. The broker-manager decided that to be competitive, he or she needed to provide technical training and support. The brokerage usually does not pay the person it appoints to the position of master of technology, which is maybe a good thing.

I once helped an agent who was struggling with her iPad and I showed her a few tricks. She told me that the young man in her office had tried to teach them all how to write an offer on an iPad. He sat in a room and looked down at his iPad and demonstrated some apps by using them. Then he held his iPad up so that everyone in the room could see it.

If brokerages were really serious about educating real estate agents, they would pay a qualified individual to provide training and support, or they would choose agents who can use everyday business technology over those who have merely obtained a real estate license.

Brokerages want to encourage young people to become real estate agents. They want to attract and retain them, yet they don’t have anything to offer these newbies — except maybe the title “office technology guru.”  Although the position is uncompensated, it does at least have some status.

Only in the real estate industry do we take all things that are related to computers, mobile devices, the Internet, social media, and online advertising and marketing, and call it technology. For some reason, the big machines used to scan paper contracts so that they can be emailed are not called “technology,” and neither are the cars that agents drive to their appointments.

Most brokerages don’t seem to really understand what an agent needs to know to be competitive in today’s market. If they did, I would see more digital signatures and fewer sideways or upside-down purchase agreements.

It seems to me that we would be better off if brokerages hired professional technology trainers, or if the agents themselves took advantage of all the opportunities to educate themselves for free — YouTube videos, webinars, Google,  and the Apple genius bar, for example.

There are people who believe that any real estate agent can be taught to use a smartphone, and even one of those big copier-scanner thingies.

Just because somebody can create a Facebook page or set up a Twitter account doesn’t make them a social media expert. I am still encountering social media marketing experts in the real estate space who just know enough to be dangerous. Sometimes it’s the youngest person in the office, and sometimes it’s one of the many social media gurus out there who used to be real estate agents.

Choosing the youngest person in the office to be the technology czar just isn’t working. The large brokerages need to do more.

Working at a microbrokerage, my survival depends in part on my ability to leverage technology. It is up to me to keep up on trends and technology.

If I owned a large brokerage, basic business technology skills would be a must-have for any office manager or broker working directly with agents.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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