Waiting in a grocery line a few weeks back, I stood behind a woman as she wrote a check. Scary.
In the wire fraud age, consider the risk of giving up your name, address, bank routing and account numbers on a piece of paper passed around like a sex worker in the Patpong red light district of Bangkok. As many as six or more people probably touch that valuable account information.
When the lady was done, I pressed my thumb on my iPhone and paid my bill with Apple Pay.
Bingo. Transaction compression and consumer certainty. And consider that fingerprints are the securest form of e-commerce.
One shot and an iPhone tap later
The benefits are obvious for this type of transaction versus the little old lady with the checkbook who carries around a sizable chunk of her net worth in her purse, which she left unzipped when she exited the grocery store.
I get my hair cut by a Russian barber on 26th St. and 7th Ave. in New York City, where they insist you take a shot of vodka after your $18 trim.
Recently, my barber had a very cool electric razor sitting on the counter. I opened my iPhone and Amazon app, found it and purchased it with one tap. I took my shot of vodka, biked around New York for a few hours and then met a friend for coffee.
The next morning, back at my building in Greenwich Village, the doorman said I received a package from Amazon. Next-day delivery of my new razor.
Bingo. Transaction compression and consumer certainty. What used to take weeks now happens in a snap.
Blood, sweat and tears
Have you purchased life insurance lately?
In the old days, you would fill out those annoying paper forms, then snail mail the application to some address in Omaha.
Days later, you’d receive a phone call or an email about setting up an appointment with a health worker, who came to your house to take your blood pressure and draw blood. Then, you’d contact your doctor to release your health forms and sweat for weeks, or even months, waiting for an underwriting decision.
Today, you can fill out an auto-populated online application in minutes. The robo underwriter then uses an algorithm based on accessible databases and gives you an underwriting decision in 20 minutes.
Bingo. Transaction compression and buyer certainty.
Planes, pains and automobiles
You can order a car, a boat or an airplane in minutes, get a refrigerator delivered in hours, purchase airline tickets in seconds and buy a car in 60 minutes.
What about real estate?
The process is as painful as spending a weekend with new friends who you discover are as crazy as the drunken couple George and Martha in Edward Albee’s iconic play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Consider the security risks alone of loosey-goosey paperwork and client information management over an extended period of time with a gaggle of dubious vendors.
My guess:The next battlefront in real estate will be who can compress the transaction and give consumers more certainty — in this case, the homeseller.
Those who succeed will make their customers happy while increasing their margins many-fold.
Certainty and compression are why offers like Opendoor have traction with some homesellers.
Consider these two distinct knocks on the door.
1. “How about an all-cash deal, a three-day close, comfortable rent back and a price that is not too far off from your expectations.”
2. “Get a storage locker and move your stuff out; hire my stager; get ready for a broker open house with 100 agents tramping through your private quarters with an uncertain sales timeline and no guaranteed price. Oh, and FYI, we may get no offers.”
The consumer is one thing; the uncertainty for the broker and the agent is even more troubling.
The loaded upfront costs come with insane uncertainty as to whether the agent and broker will even get paid.
Lost listings, inefficient use of labor and swelling customer/agent anxiety — it’s not a pretty picture.
Best of both worlds
The ideal scenario for the homeseller is an Opendoor-like experience with an agent navigating the process for the homeseller. The best of both worlds.
The industry’s response to this looming challenge reminds me of Henry Ford’s famous quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
The industry does not have to look at new startups or other industries to get the concept of an uber-efficient and certain home sale. Consider the 60-year-old relocation business.
For decades, companies have been relocating families in job-related transfers. Through an intermediary, the company is an “instant” purchaser of the transferee’s home, creating certainty for a motivated seller who cannot settle for the traditional path to a home sale.
“This is a great example of a ‘compressed sale’ to create liquidity for an illiquid asset,” said long-time relo executive John Heithaus.
Pre-algorithms, a relo company provided a list of appraisers to determine fair market value. Not scientific, but good enough.
Today, home valuation algorithms have vastly improved, doing away with the need for appraisers — soon to be real estate dinosaurs. The new valuation engines are not perfect but neither is the long, drawn-out traditional home sale process.
In the relo scenario, the homeowner had three choices: accept the offer, appeal it or use the offer as leverage when putting the house on the market in hopes of getting a higher sales price. Not too different than Opendoor’s home sale promise.
The owners usually vacated the property within 60 days or sooner but had a signed deal in their hands. Bingo. Compressed transaction and seller certainty.
“Over the years, hundreds of thousands of transferring families with billions in real estate value moved quickly with certainty,” explained Heithaus.
12 days, including rehab
Today, a cutting-edge group of agents and brokers are getting the importance of speed and certainty. Silicon Valley super agent Alex Wang recently sold a fixer upper from beginning to end in 12 days including a four-day intensive house rehab.
Check out this video.
Now more than ever, the industry must step up to the threat of new companies offering a compressed transaction and guaranteeing seller certainty.
My guess is every broker in the country could have a two-hour brainstorming session with their best agents and figure out 10 ways to shrink the transaction timeline and provide more seller certainty, including finding a local bank to step up for some experimental home purchases.
Brokers and top producers have huge leverage with their vendors and can begin to make even greater demands on them, including the adoption of better technology and transaction routing and communication systems.
Vacant homes are a great test bed for trying new things like instant showings and other steps to streamline the process.
Realtors are not going out of business, but they must change their offering and how they do things, because the world around them is transforming.
Agents are entrepreneurs. They can solve this problem.