In many senses, the real estate profession has remained largely unchanged for most of its history. From the founding of the first U.S. brokerage in 1855 up until the beginning of the 21st century, the roles of, and the strategies employed by, real estate agents were pretty well-defined.
But over the past few years, we’ve begun seeing a significant shift in how consumers are approaching the processes of buying and selling real estate.
Being successful in today’s marketplace means being able to adapt to modern technology. Carrying on with the same outdated approaches and practices that were successful 10 or 20 years ago just won’t cut it anymore. The “old agent” who is unwilling to accept these changes is likely to experience poor results as technology continues to become even more intertwined with the industry.
On the other end of the spectrum, “new agents,” those who are eager to embrace the evolution of today’s real estate professional, are able to stay current with popular trends, take advantage of software, hardware and services that make their jobs easier. New agents benefit from the full extent of the Internet’s business-building power.
Before I start talking about the differences between the roles and responsibilities of old and new agents, it’s important to point out that not everything has changed. At the core, there are still numerous facets of being a real estate professional that haven’t changed — and aren’t likely to do so even as technology continues to improve. Below there are three examples of the business that remain the same, regardless of technological innovations:
1. Generating leads
Unless your business model centers on working with a small number of repeat clients, you probably spend a good deal of your time trying to generate leads — and not just at the office. Successful real estate professionals are always networking, always talking with prospective buyers and sellers, and always looking for new ways to increase sales and grow their revenue.
2. Sharing your knowledge with clients
As a real estate professional, you possess a wealth of knowledge when it comes to buying and selling properties, and it’s your duty to share that knowledge with your clients to help them make the most informed decisions possible. According to a 2014 report by the National Association of Realtors, 59 percent of homebuyers surveyed responded that their agents helped them understand the purchasing process. Buyers and sellers have always turned to real estate agents because of their experience and know-how, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
3. Providing top-notch service
By its very nature, real estate is an extremely localized industry. When you’re working in the same market for long enough, people are going to start talking about you — and hopefully they’ll have good things to say. Successful agents have always strived to provide top-notch service to their clients. Just because the manner in which word of mouth spreads today is different than in the past doesn’t mean that it is any less important — in fact, the opposite is probably true.
Defining an “old agent”
The biggest difference between an old agent and a new one is the role they see themselves filling. Historically, real estate professionals have been the gatekeepers of information regarding both the transactional process and the properties that were out there on the market. If someone wanted to look at available listings, their options were extremely limited apart from seeking the assistance of a local agent.
As such, many professionals billed themselves as a personal shopper of sorts, someone with the inside scoop on what’s on the market and the ability to sort through all of the less-than-stellar options to dig out the hidden gems.
Although today’s agents can still provide value to their clients by identifying the most promising listings, buyers aren’t necessarily looking for someone to find a home for them. Thanks to the Internet, buyers can scan the market from the comfort of their own computer anywhere in the world, all without ever needing to talk with a single person.
Unwilling to adapt
The value that they’re assuming with clients isn’t the only way in which old agents are falling behind the times. An unwillingness to adapt to modern technological practices is also putting change-resistant agents at a severe disadvantage to their competitors.
Old advertising methods aren’t effective anymore. Although yard signs and print marketing can still help you reach out to prospective clients, agents who strictly rely on these methods are likely to have a tougher time drumming up new business.
According to NAR’s research, the first thing that 42 percent of all buyers did after deciding to purchase a home was look online at available properties. When you add in the third most common answer — looking online for information about the homebuying process — you wind up with more than half of all homebuyers turning to the Internet from the onset of their search. On top of that, 89 percent of all buyers report using online websites at some point while looking for the perfect listing.
Generating results with “new agents”
Unlike the old agents who aren’t willing to accept that times are changing, new agents realize that the desires and needs of buyers and sellers are dynamic, and they strive to adjust their service to fit these ever-changing preferences. There’s always going to be a need for knowledge and expertise — most people don’t buy and sell enough homes to become intimately familiar with the process — but the key is the way in which you market and provide it.
Rather than the old-time role as gatekeeper of information, today’s successful agents understand that consumers are more interested in a professional who can help them understand the sometimes overwhelming amount of information that’s freely available to them online.
Communication preferences have also changed in recent years, especially as a greater number of younger buyers and sellers have entered the market. New agents understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method of communicating with millennials. They like to be engaged through social media, by email and via text message, and they don’t always respond well to phone calls and voice-mail messages.
The most recent data shows that millennials born after 1980 now make up nearly one-third of all homebuyers, and we’re likely to see an increased number of younger sellers in the coming years. This increase makes it even more important that agents adjust their communication practices to fit the desires of their clients.
Utilizing technology to the fullest
Technology is impacting today’s real estate professionals in more ways than just how they communicate with clients. The online revolution has just begun, and new agents need to be technologically savvy and driven to keep up with change.
One huge transition going on right now is the shift from consumers relying mainly on desktop computers at home or the office to the focus today on mobile devices and platforms. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 45 percent of buyers report using a mobile or tablet website or application at some point during the home search and buying process.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are part of our everyday life, and we’ve become accustomed to a steady stream of visual stimulation. This is even more true with image-based platforms such as Instagram, which is currently ranked as the No. 26 most visited website in the world. As a result of this trend away from text and toward pictures, listings with attractive, detailed images are much more likely to catch the attention of buyers than bare-bones properties with a limited aesthetic appeal.
Protecting your online reputation
Another thing that new agents seem to understand, which old agents don’t, is that the Internet can be a pretty dangerous place for your reputation. If you’re not proactively working to protect and develop your online reputation, you’re giving up a lot of the control of your business’s future.
According to Google Data, two-thirds of all buyers and sellers extensively research prospective agents online before they make a decision to hire them. When people are Googling you, what are they finding? Regrettably, not having any real reviews pop up in the results can be just as damaging as negative feedback. Clients want to get an idea of who they’re working with, and if they can’t find any information about you, they’re probably just going to move on to the next agent with a better online presence. Online reviews are among the best ways to build your online presence.
Becoming a new agent
Being a new or old agent has nothing to do with your age or how long you’ve been in the profession. There are agents and brokers who have been in the industry for decades and have experienced tremendous success by adapting to modern technological changes. Conversely, there are plenty of new agents that dive right into the practices that are already antiquated and then wonder why they do not see the results they expected.
In order to become a new agent, you need to dedicate yourself to understanding what’s happening in the real estate industry — not just with the supply and demand of properties, but also with the wants and desires of today’s buyers and sellers. By knowing what consumers are looking for from an agent, how technology can make your job easier and why your online reputation is vital to your success, you can put the practices in place that will help support and grow your personal brand well into the future.