Editor’s note: In this four-part series, Inman News examines the effect of the housing slowdown on everyday real estate business. We’ve asked brokers and agents what they are doing differently with marketing now that listing times are longer, how they are keeping an edge, and how a slowdown may or may not be impacting commission rates. (Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.)
As the housing market slows, budgets tighten, and some buyers and sellers may be clinging to unrealistic interpretations of local market conditions. Real estate agents will find themselves competing harder for clients, especially in a time when consumer Web sites are popping up everyday, giving consumers a sense of empowerment over what they do and do not know.
Now, brokers and agents are discovering that with the right tools, technology can help them mine data in more sophisticated ways than consumer Web sites allow. Technology — especially when combined with their own knowledge and insight — can help brokers and agents convince clients they have expertise buyers and sellers don’t want to be without.
In Part 2, Inman News examined two software applications from Terradatum that use MLS data to help agents and brokers price properties, spot market trends and analyze how they measure up against the competition. In this part, we’ll look at software from two different companies, Technology Concepts and Real Estate Business Technologies, that also offer a way professionals can use technology to gain a competitive edge.
Technology Concepts’ MyPlaceConnection is another MLS platform with sophisticated analysis tools. But MyPlaceConnection offers an additional twist: a place on the Internet for agents and their clients to interact and collaborate.
The software, a successor to the company’s original MLS Platform, Ultrex, lets agents suggest properties to buyers and monitor their clients’ Internet searches and “favorites” lists. Dave Keillor, Technology Concepts’ founder and president, calls this capability behavioral analysis.
Although a client may say they are interested in a particular type of home or neighborhood, their behavior online may provide a more accurate picture of what they really want, Keillor said.
To illustrate the point, the company offers an anecdotal example of a doctor who tells his Realtor he is interested in a home near a golf course. The doctor’s Realtor notices homes near golf courses are ending up on the doctor’s rejected list at MyPlaceConnection. The homes that make the favorites list are on large lots in rural areas. The Realtor picks up the phone and discovers the doctor’s wife and daughter want a home where they can keep horses.
The ability to divine a client’s preferences — even if they can’t articulate them themselves — could prove to be a valuable tool in closing a deal. But before agents can monitor their clients’ activities, they must agree to give up their anonymity as they surf MyPlaceConnection.
“We understand people like the anonymity, but we’re also giving them an incentive to register so they get access to more data,” said Kevin Blanchard, Technology Concepts’ vice president of marketing and sales. “If they come in anonymously, they can only look at a limited number of fields. If they register, more information becomes available, and they can save their searches. The whole idea is to sort of move them up from the tire kickers that maybe want to see what their neighbors are asking for their house”
Once registered, clients can still remain anonymous as they browse. Only when they choose to work with an agent does the collaborative process begin, Blanchard said.
“If I register, all I give up is my e-mail. It goes into the system, but no agent has access to that. If I drop an agent into my favorites list, the agent can communicate with me, but doesn’t know who I am,” Blanchard said. “If I reply, the agent will have my e-mail address. We tried to vary the anonymity from complete to (being a) full-fledged client.”
MyPlaceConnection is available to individual agents, brokers, associations, and MLS systems, with the number of users determining price. The cost per individual agent is typically $50 to $100 a month, or $20 to $25 per agent per month for a larger user base such as an MLS.
Providing clients full access to MLS data “is a new twist NAR (the National Association of Realtors) hasn’t addressed” the company says. The question is, what can you provide to someone who is a genuine client, not just a prospect? Many of the MLSs the company has talked to have said that in the absence of a prohibition, they can provide access. If not, agents can at least give their clients access to less comprehensive IDX data.
The backers of another Web-based system, RELAY, say it can help Realtors land clients, market their properties and communicate with them throughout the sale of a property.
Released in June, RELAY Version 3.0, is a product of Real Estate Business Technologies, a subsidiary of Real Estate Business Services. REBS is in turn a subsidiary of the California Association of Realtors. The application was developed in concert with the National Association of Realtors. In other words, RELAY is intended as a technology application that helps Realtors fight fire with fire.
RELAY “is less about technology as it is about the knowledge, the expertise, the experience that a qualified Realtor brings to the transaction,” said Josh Sharfman, CEO of Real Estate Business Technologies and the chief technical officer for the California Association of Realtors.
Sharfman said today’s consumer is “empowered perhaps to sift through lots of data in the preliminary steps of purchasing or selling their home. However, wouldn’t you want the consumer to have the same transparency and visibility during the course of the transaction, once they get started? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a trusted advisor transfer all the data into meaningful information? Having a trusted advisor with whom they can discuss the data they are viewing… is a qualified value proposition.”
On the listing side, RELAY can help a Realtor prepare a presentation showing a potential client what it would be like to work with them, Sharfman said.
When it comes to marketing a property, agents can upload listing documents including disclosures, photos and video files, and track who is viewing them.
As a deal moves through the closing process, RELAY facilitates paperless transactions through integration with WINFormsOnline and ZipFormOnline. At the end of the process, Realtors can provide clients with a CD-ROM containing all the documentation for the entire transaction, in the language of their choice.
NAR members can subscribe to RELAY at an introductory price of $149 per year per agent.
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