Are technology skills alone enough to create a successful real estate business? The answer appears to be an overwhelming "no." Technology is only one of many routes to achieving the ultimate goal: being face to face with a buyer or seller who is willing to list or buy a house.

For years, many people have predicted that agents would be "disintermediated" by technology. In other words, all the tech innovation would ultimately enable buyers and sellers to do the entire transaction online without the assistance of an agent. That prophecy has yet to come true. If anything, people are even more overwhelmed at all that is required to close a transaction today.

Technology: too much of a good thing?

I’ve been interviewing brokers, managers and agents about what it takes for a new real estate agent to become successful. A common theme throughout these interviews has been the agent’s expectations about the role that technology plays in the real estate business. Can you identify which of the following two statements is associated with real estate success as compared to the one associated with rapid failure?

No. 1: "With all the photos and videos of properties online these days, buyers can pretty much determine what they will buy without ever seeing it. Furthermore, with paperless transactions I can do everything related to the transaction online. Besides, all my friends and clients communicate by text messaging — no one ever talks on the phone any more, and fighting traffic to be face to face is such a waste of time!"

No. 2: "Technology is somewhat of a challenge for me. I don’t mind door knocking or calling on owners of expired listings. If they hang up on me, that’s OK. It just means that I’m that much closer to the next person who will say ‘yes’ and do business with me."

Statement No. 1 reflects the attitude that is most likely to be associated with real estate failure. Statement No. 2 reflects the attitude of someone who will do well in sales regardless of how technologically proficient the agent is. Ideally, the best agents will have both skill sets. Unfortunately, those who rely on technology exclusively, as one manager put it, "are rapidly kicked to the curb." Here’s why:

An agent who relies primarily on technology without mastering the face-to-face skills will stumble in a number of areas. First, even though the agent may generate a lead from his digital marketing, what will happen when the lead wants to see a property in person and then write an offer? If the agent doesn’t connect with the buyers when meeting face to face, most buyers will take their business elsewhere.

A second issue is the agent’s negotiation skills. How well will the agent handle a low appraisal or a title problem? Relying on a text message or an email to let the client know that there is a problem is the formula for a canceled transaction.

More importantly, how will an agent without good face-to-face skills handle an angry client or some other volatile situation such as an uncooperative tenant occupying a listing? Again, each of these situations requires a strong face-to-face skill set.

Now compare this situation with the agent in statement No. 2: Anyone who consistently door knocks or calls on owners of expired listings rapidly becomes proficient at handling rejection and working with angry people.

The agent in the second example also has emotional resilience. Many people hide behind their technology as a means of avoiding confrontation. Like it or not, real estate is a confrontational business that requires agents to have strong negotiation skills to succeed. In fact, as I speak to brokers and managers about what they feel their greatest needs are in terms of training, negotiation skills usually tops the list.

Technology often muddles communication rather than clarifying it

People have a hard enough time communicating accurately when they speak. When you reduce it to a text message or an email, the probability for the information being misinterpreted increases exponentially. The reason is that unless the communication is a video, you lose all the body language, tone, inflections and other key indicators that are pivotal to understanding exactly what is going on in the negotiation situation.

To illustrate this point, if you receive a text message from a client who says, "Oh that’s great," do they mean, "That’s really terrific!" or do they mean it sarcastically, "Oh, that stinks." You can’t tell without hearing how their voice actually sounds.

There is no technology — no Web solution, widget or app — that can figure out what to do when an appraisal comes in low, how to handle the fighting between a divorcing couple who are selling their home, or when the buyer is suddenly struck with a transaction-busting case of buyer’s remorse. The bottom line is that real estate is still a belly-to-belly business and probably will remain so for years to come.

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