How brokers can integrate technology to create a seamless experience for consumers and agents alike

Insights from Red Oak Realty's Vanessa Bergmark

Vanessa Bergmark is general manager and partner of Red Oak Realty, an East Bay, California, real estate brokerage. Bergmark will bring her experience to Real Estate Connect San Francisco this July, discussing how brokers can bridge the gaps in the myriad technology offerings to create seamless experiences for consumers and agents alike.

She’ll take the audience through the prickly proposition of putting together the right mix of tools and processes to make sure customers don’t suffer due to a poorly integrated technology suite.

Vanessa Bergmark
Vanessa Bergmark

In the interview below Bergmark opines on the changing demands of new buyers, what the influx of wealth means to the Bay Area, and how to make the most of today’s market.

Inman: What’s the most disruptive force changing the economy and consumer behavior and why?

VB: Technology is empowering consumers which subverts traditional ways of doing business, sidelining many businesses that were formerly the gatekeepers of information. This isn’t necessarily an inherently negative thing — eBay, Amazon, Uber and Airbnb are some positive examples of successes. For the more complex transactions, this can, in my opinion, create challenges. In determining long-term lifestyle decisions, something very separate from an overnight stay or a cab ride, the consumer may find themselves only moderately informed by their research.

The nuances of the experience from start to finish fail to translate from technology to reality. This also isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the advances technology has given us, especially in the real estate industry, but it does create a new wrinkle in the real life interaction with our clients and a demand for the broker/agent to stay Uber-informed on almost everything.

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Inman: Every day there are more services described as “Uber for X.” Do you think this trend will continue? If so, what’s next? If no, why not?

VB: As long as there is demand for an alternative way of doing things, then yes, I think it will continue. There is an inherent difference in each generation, how much info or support they need, how fast they need it, and how and if they will recommend it or not. The next generation will consistently challenge not necessarily the service or product but the means in which they interact with it or purchase it. I think that price seems to be a less determining factor than ease of the experience.

Consumer opinion seems to be a trend that is only gaining momentum — YELP has single-handedly brought in more clients for us personally than any other campaign, and at zero cost. This is evident to us that customer service and client experience is where the brokerage should put the bulk of it’s focus (hiring talent, training often and creating resources for our agents so they can best serve the consumer heightening the overall experience in a positive way). If we get this part right, positive agent reviews coupled with technology literally funnels new business in every day.

It’s not a novel idea, but look at the business models of the real estate brokerage nationwide available right now, and you will see high volume, high commission splits, limited resource and limited broker support backing the bulk of real estate transactions nationwide. Not in correlation with customer experience. I think this trend will change as consumers demand better, more informed and engaged experiences when buying or selling their homes.

Inman: What’s the one trend you’re keeping an eye on for 2015 and why?

VB: I am keeping my eye on a very local trend, affordability in the Bay Area. My brokerage serves the East Bay, primarily Oakland and Berkeley and a handful of smaller cities — Albany, El Cerrito, Kensington and Emeryville. With nearly 40 percent of San Francisco’s inventory priced at $1 million-plus, a mass exodus from San Francisco to the East Bay is occurring. Oakland, which has seen a moderate trickle of new restaurants, shops and galleries over the past decade, is now branded as the alternative, affordable and hip place to put down roots if you are priced out of San Francisco.

This is not the first time we have seen this happen, but it’s the first time the volume has been so high and the message so clear. Neighborhood demand has also been affected by this. The Oakland Hills with the particular neighborhoods of Montclair and Piedmont Pines used to be in high demand, but the current buyer is giving up both the epic view and the square footage in favor of ride shares and walkability for neighborhoods that feature smaller bungalows with coffee shops and boutiques.

This is creating equity gains and losses in new pockets of the city, which will hopefully create new opportunities of wealth creation. As a brokerage, we are focusing our dollars on ad campaigns to San Francisco (something we have not done in the past), running our RO video in SF movie theaters and advertising in SF print publications. We are also using our back-end statistical analysis on neighborhood demand to prepare our sellers and educate our buyers on competition.

Inman: What is the one thing real estate needs to do to innovate on the consumer experience?

VB: Treat it like a business instead of a hobby. Hire, train and demand the best of the real estate agents so that the consumers have a phenomenal experience. We’ll always be one notch above the used car salesman if we do not change our antiquated methods of who we hire and how we run our brokerages. If we can start from this place first, we can build each and every day on the overall experience for our clients. I’m excited about this opportunity and consider it my personal responsibility to put it into practice.

Inman: What’s the most important takeaway of your talk at Real Estate Connect?

VB: I’d like to send the message that in real estate, technology needs to work hand in hand with the human being, the agent and the client. I’d like to see it improve the overall experience for everyone without replacing the broker/agent, an integration as opposed to an obliteration would be ideal.


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