Real estate professionals are operating in an unprecedented time. Our clients now have access to more information than ever before. Today, by the time clients contact an agent to set up showings, it’s more than likely that they’ve already spent hours online researching neighborhoods and properties. We are no longer the gatekeepers to protected information. And I feel like we are spending a lot of time fighting against this changing environment when we should be embracing it.

All too often, I overhear my colleagues speaking about how much they hate the Zillow Zestimate, or maybe they’re upset because their clients spend too much time online instead of coming to them for neighborhood information.

But maybe we shouldn’t be dismissing what the clients are doing. When we dismiss what they’re teaching themselves about a particular property, they will often feel that it’s OK to dismiss what we as the agents are telling them.

Generation X and Gen Y clients have spent a good portion of their lives in the “information age” and are used to having information at their fingertips. As a Gen Yer myself, when someone tells me something that sounds too good to be true, I’m on Google and fact-checking in less than 30 seconds. I can only speak for myself, but I would not take too kindly to someone telling me that my search was flawed, or that I do not know what I’m talking about.

Is the Zillow Zestimate perfect? Of course not. But Zillow also doesn’t pull that value out of thin air, either. There are hundreds of factors that go into the valuation, so somewhere in there is a real data point that is being used. There is an opportunity to create an incredible customer experience … but you risk losing trust. If a seller client comes to you and mentions a value that they saw online, and you automatically dismiss it, you’re going to antagonize them for doing what they thought was a good thing — their own research.

Can you imagine the client experience if you already knew what the Zestimate was heading into a listing presentation, and you were ready to speak to the difference between it and your suggested list price? Your client would realize that you had all of the angles covered. You can also avoid a potential pitfall moving forward if and when you start seeing buyer offers that are off-base because buyers are also using the Zestimate as a reference.

Overall, it seems that the larger issue is that clients have access to a ton of information that we as agents do not feel is complete or accurate. In 2015, professions who have never had to deal with customer input and knowledge are now required to handle it, like it or not.

Look at the medical field. Patients are now self-diagnosing (rightly or wrongly) themselves on WebMD every day. Have you ever used WebMD?! You can log on with a cough symptom and leave the site thinking that you’re dying due to an obscure illness. It’s definitely not a perfect system.

But physicians have to realize that their clients are using WebMD and learn how to speak to them about it instead of chastising their patients for seeking out the available information.

Jason Cassity is a real estate professional at City Consulting Group in San Diego and specializes in the downtown San Diego real estate market.

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