Agents and brokers have no doubt that transaction tools have made their lives more efficient and that technology has enabled them to do more deals. However, they still have a long wish list of how the transaction process could be improved, and they would like to see their chosen software interact better with the software preferences of others.
Agents and brokers have no doubt that transaction tools have made their lives more efficient and that technology has enabled them to do more deals.
However, they still have a long wish list of how the transaction process could be improved, and they would like to see their chosen software interact better with the software preferences of others.
Inman surveyed readers about how they use transaction tools today in their real estate business.
Among the survey respondents — comprising 47.85 percent agents, 32.80 percent brokers and 19.35 percent managers, tech administrators and transaction coordinators — the majority said they enjoyed what transaction tools have brought to their real estate businesses. (Transaction tools in the survey were defined as software used to coordinate the documentation and timelines involved in a real estate transaction. They typically include e-forms with signatures, storage, checklists and calendars.)
A strong percentage said they enjoy using transaction tools, just over 50 percent giving them a resounding 10/10, 13.98 percent giving them 9/10 and 11.83 percent 8/10.
As one managing principal broker concluded: “Compared to 15 years ago, it is simply a game-changer. Not just DocuSign, but all digital signature products. They have their downfalls, but from strictly a convenience factor, digital signatures can’t be matched.”
One team manager added that the transaction tools available have changed the way the real estate transaction gets done: “There’s no more signing deals on the hood of the car. Now you see a home, and the agent writes the offer on the spot, it gets sent to the client’s phone, who signs it, and it’s emailed to the other side. It can be close to immediate if you have your tools properly set up. And no more carbon copies or faxes.”
Those who are using them well are enjoying a competitive edge, argued respondents.
The broker of a big, successful team said: “It allows for better response times. In our competitive market, that can mean the difference between sealing the deal or not.”
Best-rated transaction tools
Of those currently on offer, the most commonly used transaction tools were:
- DocuSign (53.76 percent)
- dotloop (31.72 percent)
- zipLogix (29.57 percent)
- Top Producer (18.28 percent)
- TransactionDesk, which includes InstanetForms, Authentisign and DocBox, among others (15.59 percent)
SkySlope and Form Simplicity followed next in the ranking.
The software tools which respondents said worked best for them were:
- DocuSign, (22.04 percent)
- dotloop (16.67 percent)
- TransactionDesk (10.75 percent)
- zipLogix (8.06 percent)
- Top Producer (7.53 percent)
Respondents also mentioned they use and like BackAgent, Nekst, appFiles, HelloSign, Realvolve, BoomTown, Brivity, Todoist, Referralmaker by Buffini and eEdge as part of their software solution.
“DocuSign is convenient, easy to use, provides date and time stamps and is easy to forward to all parties involved in the transaction,” said one high-performing agent.
Added another: “DocuSign is the only one I couldn’t live without; I could replace the others easily.”
Dotloop, meanwhile, makes it easy to connect to everyone, said one agent: “In the office, at the listing, with a buyer at the chosen home, on the road or home at the lake. With the clients, the other agent, the attorney, the bank, the admin and the broker.”
Added another broker: “Dotloop is absolutely the best tool out there. It saves me time daily, has a mobile version, is easy for clients, easy to manipulate, add, change, edit, initiate, it’s simple, effective and just overall the best tool of my business.”
Nobody seems to be using any singular transaction tool in isolation.
Said one active agent in a successful team: “We use dotloop because it comes with the Keller Williams package, and our office requires us to be paperless. We use TransactionDesk because it auto-populates the listing information when writing a contract, and Top Producer holds our entire database of leads and contacts and clients.”
For many real estate professionals, the challenge is finding the right suite of tools that will integrate well. Said one broker on a team: “ZipLogix and DocuSign are just tools of the transaction, but managing it requires communications with client and date tracking, which Realvolve does.”
AppFiles was rated highly by some respondents in the survey.
“If I had to pick just one application, it would be appFiles as it will do the job of all other systems. It is hands-down the best transaction platform I have used,” said one seasoned transaction coordinator of a large team.
Added an experienced branch manager: “AppFiles is an extremely robust paperless office system that allows for all the features provided by the other platforms and more things they don’t provide. It is perfect for true real-time collaboration and support of a dispersed sales force. Basically, it is a one-stop-shop.”
AOSdates is the go-to for one well-organized and successful agent, who said, “AOSdates creates a complete timeline of the transaction that gets emailed out to all the parties involved in the transaction. It also keeps both my clients and myself informed on the progression of the transaction with automatic email reminders so nothing slips through the cracks.”
For e-signature software, HelloSign had some vocal fans in the survey.
Said one seasoned agent: “HelloSign is the easiest, most user-friendly, intuitive e-signature software out there. I never get frustrated, it always works. My clients way prefer it to DocuSign or DigiSign.”
Some are still looking for the magic combination. A successful agent with five years in the industry is currently using Form Simplicity, but wants to bring in more. “I am still in the search for an end-to-end CRM solution. They all have bits and pieces but nothing that integrates my contacts, calendars, phone calls, texts and so on. I have to kind of manually enter everything.”
Your dime, your choice
Meanwhile, if you are waiting for your brokerage to pay for your transaction tools before diving in — don’t hold your breath.
Overall, agents seem to be paying for the transaction tools themselves: Almost 50 percent (46.24 percent) say they paid for them in full, while for nearly 18 percent, their broker pays in full, and in 16 percent of cases, the agent and broker divide the cost.
A further 8.60 percent receive them free as part of their association membership, and for a small group, close to 5 percent, the franchisor pays for them in full.
Asked to identify who decides which tools are used, the majority again said it was in their own hands.
More than 70 percent of respondents say they made the call; for 15.59 percent, it’s the broker’s job, while nearly 7 percent say it is someone else — the team leader or “rainmaker,” for instance, or the local board of Realtors — who makes the decision.
It can be a good idea to include the team to ensure buy-in, suggested some.
“It is a conversation with brokers and the firm to come to the right choice,” said a managing principal broker.
Does the consumer care about transaction tools?
The real question is, will you lose business if you don’t have the transaction software?
Respondents were asked whether they think consumers expect their agent to be using transaction software, and the majority said they think consumers do expect it, as electronic handling of transactions are the norm everywhere else.
“We are in a world of instant gratification and convenience. Clients want to see their agents respond, and want to be kept in the loop of what is going on, but want to do so at their own convenience,” said one transaction coordinator.
It depends on the age of the consumer, said a number of respondents. Younger buyers and sellers assume that transaction tools will be provided, but more mature consumers are still coming around to the idea — some requesting that paper forms still be used.
“Younger buyers want electronic transactions. Seniors are not as amenable,” said one agent.
Typically, those using digital transaction tools for the first time enjoy the experience, said respondents. “They appreciate the quick offers and ease of electronic signatures, but they really don’t care how the job gets done, just so that it gets done,” said an experienced agent.
Because most consumers are not buying houses every few years, they may not have given it much thought, however.
Commented one newer agent: “Many clients don’t know about the transaction tools. Their knowledge is usually based on how frequently the customer does transactions. For instance, investors are typically more aware of electronic signatures than first-time buyers. They are typically surprised by the possibility, even though most people have used electronic signatures somewhere in life.”
Having a suite of transaction software can be a good, professional look for agents, added one experienced transaction coordinator.
“Online tools, such as electronic signatures and ongoing notes showing where they are in the process, lets the client respond to signatures when necessary, keeps them in the loop, and actually, depending on the agent and the permissions granted, lets the client see how hard the agent must work to earn their commission.”
What are tools doing for agents’ professional image?
The current transaction tools are certainly helping agents appear efficient and professional.
It came across strongly in the research that agents and brokers think the software is helping them stay organized and is making their job easier, a combined 70 percent claiming this.
“I can have a life and a career,” said one high earner.
Other reasons to use transaction tools, said respondents, was the fact that other agents use them, consumers expect it, their clients’ information feels more secure and it cuts down on paperwork.
Said one experienced broker: “I couldn’t do the volume I do without it, and I couldn’t market effectively without it. I always say if they took it away I’d quit. I have no idea how anyone did real estate before they had this.”
A team leader said she used her transaction tools to track her return on investment and manage her database.
It works well for when your clients are out of town, added another agent.
No. 1 on the wish list? Integration
When asked how the existing selection of transaction tools could improve, better integration among the existing tools is No. 1 on the list.
In terms of how well transaction tools interact with each other, this remains a key problem area as the industry evolves, 45 percent of respondents giving transaction tools a 1/10 to a 5/10 rating in terms of their ability to interact with others, while nearly 42 percent gave them from 6/10 to 10/10. A remaining 11 percent didn’t know.
One new agent has been unimpressed: “I seriously wish they all had API standards and flowed together. It’s so broken.”
A successful new agent from the tech industry felt frustrated by the way the system as it is, with a number of players offering services, often competing.
“When I was working in the software business, there was more focus on the integration of tools. In real estate, there is more confusion and conflict in the marketing of tools than I have ever experienced before.”
An experienced agent and transaction coordinator who gives the current selection of transaction tools a 5/10 is waiting for more innovation from the software companies operating in the real estate industry. “Because so far, the systems used don’t do all of what is needed — one just keeps all the documents together, one uses marketing, and a calendar has to be kept in a different software, whereas they should all be able to be used in conjunction.”
A Realtor, co-founder and COO laid out what might be a better system with a single sign-in. “It seems to me an agent needs a consumer-facing home search site with CRM until a transaction goes pending, then a pre-close product that syncs with DocuSign and a post-close product for long-term follow-up (FUP) all integrated with a single sign-in.”
Added a newer agent, currently using zipLogix, “I think Compass might have one platform which you log into for everything. We need to get there. Say our MLS talks to zipForm like zipForm is already integrated to DocuSign. Although not perfect, it’s a helpful time-saver.”
Why hasn’t the integration happened from the outset? Insights often come from new agents.
Said one: “There are many options out there that are being used in real estate but aren’t made for real estate. You can tell the difference between the two as soon as you start using them.”
Would a one-stop-shop solve all the problems?
Another fervent wish voiced in the survey was that CRMs (customer relationship managers) and transaction tools be combined in a one-stop shop.
“Agents want to be able to communicate to their prospects, current clients and past clients without having to skip through multiple software tools to do so. They need a very well-thought out, functional, one-stop shop that will allow them to market to their database, actively work and track their transactions in process, submit to their compliance department, then market to past clients, all in the same place, without having to add something into three or four different programs to keep up with,” said one respondent.
An experienced agent on a team gave the current offering of tools, including CRM software, a low 3/10 rating. “There is too much information and set-up time. Some CRMs don’t have the features I want and some do. I want it easy to learn and with all the bells and whistles and features. I want big data demographics attached with my contacts. You always have to pick and choose all the modules you want from different vendors because not one of them has everything I want.”
“It takes multiple applications to get through a transaction. It would be great to have a tool that does it all from CRM to electronic signatures, ” said one new agent to the industry.
Added an experienced agent on a team: “There needs to be one tool for maintaining a CRM that also allows for e-signing and posts reminders for every step of the transaction.”
Transaction tools and CRMs should work well together and perhaps be developed in unison, suggested on agent/transaction coordinator. “One should not be an ‘afterthought’ tacked on to the back of the other.”
While some are looking for a one-stop-shop solution, others prefer to go for the specialist in each area for the sake of quality.
One broker who uses Nekst as part of their solution said, “I need something for creating documents, signing documents and all the steps in between. A lot of the all-in-one systems are poor in these three categories. I find it’s better to go with the best solution in each category.”
An associate broker of ten years added: “I would like modules for CRM, transaction management, digital signature, cloud storage, listing management with standard interfaces so I could choose best of breed. Everyone wants to be all things to everyone and no one excels at all of it, at the same time.”
What the transaction coordinators say
Transaction coordinators made some pleas to software companies currently working on making the their tools better.
One established transaction coordinator said firmly: “Transaction tools need to be built for transaction coordinators. They need to understand that transaction coordinators, whether independent or employed by real estate agents, are the ones that really use the heck out of them. Most successful real estate agents delegate the work of using transaction management software to their transaction coordinators or assistants.”
One agent who also trains agents in workflows and systems said tools need to be more flexible to accommodate the different types of workflows in the real estate industry.
“Many of the tools I’ve tested want me to upload documents to their servers, rather than integrating with my current system, where documents are in Dropbox or Box. Also, they are built for a model where the agent controls the entire transaction in terms of documents.
“That doesn’t apply in my market and so I need to get buy-in from attorneys, lenders and even my broker. I also would need buy-in from every co-op board and managing agent, which is another big hurdle.”
One message to software designers: These transaction specialists do not like to be told which tools to use.
One dotloop advocate with more than 10 years in the business said, “I’d like integration with our preferred companies, not theirs.”
Could agents be trying harder?
Of course, not every real estate office or team has a transaction coordinator. So for change to happen and transaction tools to be better designed for all real estate professionals, more agents should be getting familiar with the transaction tools out there so they can influence how the products evolve.
Some brokers and transaction experts said they wished their agents would use the online transaction tools more — there are still some non-adopters out there.
“I find real estate agents very slow to adapt to transaction management software,” said a transaction coordinator.
As more people in the industry use the tools, real improvements will follow, said a senior broker: “More agents and brokers need to use them to help the overall professionalism.”
“Agent training is the biggest obstacle out there,” added another broker. “Agents who cannot use it are not keeping current with technology.”
An associate broker of more than ten years, who only likes the digital signature tools within the transaction offering, said: “It’s the broker’s responsibility to get this right, but they typically don’t sell enough to know how they’d best be used.”
One veteran agent owned up to not feeling confident using the tools and said: “I am still not fully using the tools, and there is no easy training I am aware of that provides process training with common scenarios. To me, that would be great as long as there was a low teacher-to-student ratio. Once they took a course, I believe more agents would use more features of the products offered and the products would be more ‘sticky,’” he said.
Sometimes the training is there — agents just haven’t used it.
Georg Gerstenfeld, VP of global real estate solutions at DocuSign, said the company offered extensive support and online training through programs such as DocuSign University and DocuSign Office Hours so that agents could familiarize themselves with the company’s capabilities.
“We also have a library of videos that are only two to five minutes long,” he said.
“Investing a few minutes to watch a video or join our chats could save agents hours every day and week.”
The agent suggestion box
So, well done to the software companies out there for achieving what you have so far. But you’ve still got work to do.
Some blue sky ideas from the real estate industry to go away and think about:
“They should look at where the transaction starts and work out from there. My transaction starts with the listing on the MLS. Then they should think about the client’s experience on the other end and perhaps make it more user-friendly for them with a guideline about how far through the transaction they are.”
“We need easier platforms to navigate, easier task-management solutions for teams and easier buyer and seller transaction platforms that integrate together. And a portal for clients to log into to view forms.”
“Better interfaces and software updates for mobile devices. Make the app and do not settle garbage online applications that use default mobile browsers.”
“Many agents are very visual, and have multiple transactions open at the same time. It would be great to be able to have a task list for each transaction that could be shown on a calendar (not just in a list), and the calendar could show all the open tasks, closings, appointments, etc. for all of the open transactions at the same time.”
“Forget about standalone applications. Integrate with common tools across desktop PCs, pads and phones of all makes and models.”
“They need to be more involved with MLSs so they can auto-populate the info onto forms and contracts.”
“Make sure you can do everything from start to finish using a mobile device or tablet. From creating the form to obtaining a signature to sending copies to other agents or clients without having to use 10 apps to make that happen”
And finally, a couple of tips for agents from DocuSign’s Georg Gerstenfeld: “Make sure that whichever transaction tools you choose can enable an out-of-office or mobile worker.”
And use transaction tools that have an open platform. “You want your tools to integrate seamlessly with other systems in your arsenal such as zipForms, Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps, Box, DropBox, and many others.”
Inman conducted the survey between June 14 and 22, 2016. It received 186 completed responses. Of the respondents, 3.76 percent have worked in real estate for less than 1 year, and 58.06 percent have worked in real estate for more than 10 years.