Tech-savvy homebuyers are seeking a painless, personalized experience

Insights from Keller Williams Realty's Cary Sylvester

Look at the average real estate company and how they’re using technology — it’s probably to complete a specific task or solve a specific problem. Think e-sign functionality for mobile signatures, or CRM for a full pipeline.

That’s a great start, but homebuyers and sellers are skewing younger, are increasingly tech-savvy and are expecting more. They don’t want technology to be used in a one-off way. They want technology to be used in a way that not only makes the transaction process less painful, but also makes their lives easier. Plus, they want their experience to be personalized.

Connected image via Shutterstock.
Connected image via Shutterstock.

To meet those expectations, real estate franchises need to think about where technology is headed. No matter how innovative, exciting and fresh an idea or new application may seem, something even more innovative, more exciting and much fresher is right around the corner.

It’s important to always look ahead, continue to innovate and ensure the greatest experience possible for homebuyers and sellers, because our success as real estate professionals is tied to how happy our clients are at the end of the day. And increasingly (whether you like it or not), it’s tied to technology.

What technology is ‘on tap’ for 2014 and the years to come — and how will it will make (or break) your agents and your brand?

Here are a few things I’m thinking about:

1. Transparency is good, but so is context and personalization

No franchise, no technology company and no brokerage can do it alone."

Have you ever Googled yourself? If you haven’t, you absolutely should. I’m almost certain you’ll be surprised by what you find.

The lesson is that our lives, to an extent, are transparent and that will become only more pervasive as we join more social networks and share more information about ourselves electronically. We have come to accept this level of transparency. As real estate agents, we should use this to our advantage.

Consumers aren’t always clear about what exactly they’re looking for in their home search. They might say they want access to everything so they can make informed and educated decisions for themselves.

The key is to just give them everything they need. There’s a difference. Your job as a broker or agent is to create that personalized experience for your client. Show them what they want to see, when they want to see it. Give them listings and data that are relevant and use technology to make that happen.

As an agent, you know how your clients are using your website or mobile app and what they’re searching for.

For example, they may tell you they want a single-family home, but you know they’re searching for condos. Or they say a big yard doesn’t matter, but they’re searching for homes with swimming pools.

It’s your job as an agent to analyze and distill the information that online portals spit out. That’s what will set you apart from the portal and create that important human relationship with your client.

Use the technology in a smart way, but always bring it back to putting your client first. Read between the lines of what they’re telling you, combined with what you know about them, to give them the best experience possible.

2. Blend the knowledge of industry insiders and outsiders to make an impact

When evaluating technology tools, it’s important to think beyond our bubble. Look to other industries for inspiration to determine what’s worked (and maybe what hasn’t) for other companies. Henry Ford’s inspiration for the assembly line came from the meat industry, of all places.

There’s an incredible amount of technological innovation occurring outside of real estate, and we need to harness more of it. Dotloop is a prime example of this. Austin Allison, dotloop’s CEO — and a former agent himself — saw services like Google Chat, AIM and Basecamp growing rapidly and knew there was a way real estate transactions could happen in real time and more collaboratively online.

Fast-forward from 2009, and his company is solving the age-old problem of the paper-laden real estate transaction by blending innovation with credibility and boots-on-the-ground knowledge to make sure everything clicks. Allison is an industry insider, by definition, but he utilized the brains of industry outsiders to innovate.

No franchise, no technology company and no brokerage can do it alone. Going forward, we’ll see even more collaboration between our industry leaders who really understand real estate and companies that fall outside of traditional boundaries to collectively drive us forward.

Dotloop is one example, but we still need more to give clients the tech-savvy, mobile, personalized experiences that they expect. Can you be one of those innovators?

3. Keep your eye on mobile

We’re only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential for mobile to truly impact our market. Sure most brands and agents make use of some sort of mobile-friendly application in their business already. But the worst thing our industry can do is get complacent.

Agents and consumers will continue to put more pressure on mobile apps than ever before. I would argue that in just a few years, 80 percent of real estate transactions will occur entirely on a mobile device, from search to close.

We recently launched a mobile app because we believe, “Your home search should go where you go.” Using the app, you can connect with your agent, ask questions, check out properties and estimate your home loans. It’s really useful; however, it’s not a one-and-done thing.

A mobile app is just one part of a much bigger tech strategy for Keller Williams. It’s a piece of the puzzle that will continue to evolve with new iterations and new features. It can and should be used to engage clients and make sure their experience is outstanding, but it’s not stand-alone.

In the next few years, I believe mobile will evolve in two very interesting ways.

The first involves GPS and location-based search. Look for forthcoming apps that will actually send information to clients about a particular subdivision or even a specific house when the client is in the area, by using GPS and location technology.

The second involves enhanced wearable technology similar to Fitbit. Using the same concept for real estate, I believe you’ll be able to enter your search criteria into the Fitbit-style device and when you’re near a property that matches those criteria, your wrist will buzz to alert you.

The key with mobile is not to rush. There are times when being fast and possibly making mistakes along the way is OK. But with mobile apps, the opposite is true. If you rush and put out a poor-quality app, you’ll lose users. Once you lose them, it’s very hard to get them back.

Instead, take your time, be patient and do it right the first time.

4. Educate yourself and your people

The average age of homebuyers and sellers is skewing younger. So no matter what the age of the real estate agent, you need to be tuned in to what your client wants technologically.

The franchises of the future need to give agents the tools to do that. At Keller Williams we are education-based and technology-driven. From the day we hire a new agent, they have access to our eEdge system to run their own business and determine how that platform best fits their business.

Of course, technology is nothing without education and training. Agents need to be equipped with the knowledge and tools to meet the demands of a dynamic client base — and we need to evolve our ways of teaching, too.

Traditional classrooms have transformed significantly in the past few years — just look at Coursera or Khan Academy. They have essentially changed education by moving the classroom online and creating a global learning community.

Education in real estate will transform, as well. We will always maintain active classroom learning, but it will be complemented by more passive online learning to create a holistic educational approach.

The bottom line

There really is no exact way to predict what will happen with technology and real estate because it is so fluid. The takeaway, though, is that we should all be rethinking how the entire real estate experience happens for both you, as an agent, and your clients. Expectations on both ends are evolving. We need to not only meet, but exceed, them.

We should always keep technology top of mind, with the understanding that we’re utilizing it to put our clients and their satisfaction first.

Cary Sylvester is vice president of technology innovation and communication for Keller Williams Realty International. Follow her on Twitter: @carysylvester.


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