The following is an Inman News Q&A with John Rainville, a Pennsylvania real estate broker:
Q: How will the real estate industry will be different when we recover from the current downturn?
A: The new landscape of real estate brokerage is starting to emerge in several markets. Gone are the days of a firm having multiple offices to serve one county. I see the industry moving to one regional office that services all the adjoining counties. The agents are able to do more via the Internet, keeping the needed "office" to as small as two rooms — a conference room and a work room. Contracts can be done electronically, reviewed by a manger, transmitted vie e-mail and signed with digital signatures and delivered back to all parties with the click of a button. It is imperative that the "new" brokerages utilize technology and group buying power to help agents reduce their business expenses. Overhead is the "devil" that all firms will need to keep in check. Cooperatives of brokers may emerge for cost savings on staff, advertising and even office space.
Q: How will the business model or business practices of the title, brokerage or lending industries change in the future?
A: On the brokerage side I see less personnel and more outsourcing of services to contain costs. For example, (companies may set up a) "call center" to answer the phones for all offices and then transfer the caller out to the agent in the field, with follow-up e-mail messages. This allows phones to be answered live, 24/7. The commission structure for now has been set with the advent of all of the 70-30 broker-agent splits offered in the business. The "free" ride (limiting an agent’s sharing of commissions with a broker) after an agent hits a certain plateau will move or disappear altogether.
Q: What technology trends will change the industry in the future?
A: The adoption of broadband will continue to allow us all to do more from our computer. Webcams and videos of properties will continue to drive the experience the younger generations are expecting.
Q: What skills will the real estate agent of the future require?
A: Strong computer and sales skills.
Q: How will real estate advertising dollars be spent in the future? How will real estate marketing be different?
A: The Internet for now will be the leader in advertising revenue budget allocations. The vast improvement in targetable direct mail will also see a large rise as it adopted by the real estate industry. Why send a "just-listed" card to a geographically-targeted area when you can target a better-refined demographic who may actually purchase the property?
Q: What will drive the expansion or contraction?
A: First-time buyers will drive the recovery in 2009.
John Rainville is broker for BrokersRealty.com in Camp Hill, Pa.
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