Paperless is great, but let’s face it: Brokers get more out of it than their clients

Broker Notebook

The terms “paperless” and the “paperless agent” get thrown around a lot in real estate. As buzzwords, they’re right up there with “mobile.”

We get a little closer to actually being “paperless” each year, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Paper airplane image via Shutterstock.
Paper airplane image via Shutterstock.

For the most part, I can and have helped clients buy or sell a home without ever printing a piece of paper.

There are still agents who mess things up by printing my electronically signed documents, and having their clients sign the paper.

Some say consumers are demanding paperless transactions. Although you could definitely describe my clients as demanding, most don’t care if we are paperless or not.

I cannot recall a day on the job where I focused on being paperless, and I don’t make a big deal out of being able to use electronic signatures in my marketing.

Using email, text messages and electronic signatures is more about me than it is about my clients. It’s more convenient for me to use electronic contracts and let them come back to me signed than it is for me to print them out and take them to my clients.

Let’s not confuse being a paperless agent with customer service."

I can make more money with less effort by taking advantage of technology. Real estate companies — especially the larger ones — see a huge benefit in having agents use electronic documents rather than paper.

Real estate offices have to have all sorts of systems in place to collect documents from agents, get information from the documents into the bookkeeping system, and to use the information to track agent performance.

When I worked in a huge franchise system, part of my job was to get numbers into spreadsheets so that office administrators could collect the information and roll it up into bigger spreadsheets that were used for tracking profitability. I felt the same way about those spreadsheets as I do about tracking my business mileage for my income tax returns.

Keeping track of financials is an important and necessary part of any business. But when I hear brokers talking about “paperless agents,” I always get the feeling it’s about them and their business, and not at all about the agent or the client.

Let’s not confuse being a paperless agent with customer service, or with what we now call “customer experience.” Most of the time, our clients really don’t care if we give them a piece of paper to sign or if they have to click on an electric form to sign. As long as it is easy for them and they are not inconvenienced, they’re happy.

With each client and each situation, we can put the client first and ask them how they would like to sign documents. If they don’t care about being paperless, then neither should we. One of the advantages of being in a smaller brokerage is less paperwork and more flexibility.

Sometimes we may think we are focusing on our clients, but what we are really doing is ignoring what the client wants and instead focusing on the most efficient way we can complete the tasks that we need to complete so that the real estate transaction can happen. Profitability and efficiency are important, but should not be confused with customer service.

If I had a choice, I would choose not to use any paper in my business. But sellers would be upset with me if I did not provide fliers in the flier box. Some of my clients do not want to use electronic signatures. They want old-school paper contracts. They want to see my face, and they want to discuss the paperwork with me in person.

I would never call myself a paperless agent. I would rather call myself a real estate agent and historic home specialist.

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


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