Leadership in the real estate brokerage world has a dysfunctional relationship with technology. The psychological disconnect reaches much further than any one company, though Gary Keller’s recent Vision Speech encapsulated it perfectly.

Leadership in the real estate brokerage world has a dysfunctional relationship with technology. The psychological disconnect reaches much further than any one company, though Gary Keller’s recent Vision Speech encapsulated it perfectly.

Picture the chairman standing on his grand stage. He’s a rock star of the real estate world, the daring leader of a fast-growing empire. He’s just announced that his company has won the triple crown of the real estate brokerage numbers battle.

His celebratory proclamation to his adoring followers: “We’re not a real estate company. We’re a technology company.”

Cue confusion. 

Technology partners are cast as data-thieving scoundrels. Small, startup competitors are denigrated with awkwardly outsized defensiveness. News organizations and individuals are singled out and sophomorically chided.  

Tools that agents in the audience use, love and profit from are labeled as the path to demise. The humans in the room? They’d better choose the right side of the fence when it comes to data, or they might not be back next year. 

This moment should be a celebration of broker and agent success, but the 800-pound gorilla takes on the persona of the cornered tiger just as his business is reaching its long-awaited coronation. It would be entertaining if it weren’t so concerning.

One brand is whipping its biggest supporters while another is proclaiming itself the “Bad and Booj-ee” technology king because it bought a web development company.

Solar yard signs and CRMs hypnotize audiences. CEOs focus more on acquiring data than growing and improving the quality of their human agent base. 

We borrow cliches from the technology world to make our fetish seem reasonable:

  • “Data is the new oil.” 
  • “The one with the most insights wins.” 

There’s no denying the growing importance of technology in the real estate business. There is also, though, a growing weariness of the unceasing ogling.  

This fiending over technology will make traditional real estate companies competitively weaker. They’re losing focus on the primary values that have allowed agents and brokers to withstand what other industries could not.  

One consumer experience at a time

How do we support the agent standing in the rain at 9 p.m. on a Friday night for a third showing because this is “the one” for that client who needs it so badly?

Big data might have introduced her to the client. A bot might help keep her organized. Those won’t transcend the single transaction, though. Her ability to build personal respect and value with the client, in person, will. Technology is important, but it’s just one component in the creation of a loyal client base and an ongoing referral source.  

Coaching, education, training — these are the unsexy, yet critical brokerage roles that help an agent strengthen the consumer experience when human interaction is in play. 

Building brand trust through community outreach, supporting professional standards: this is the long game for creating consumer recognition that the real estate agent’s value is more than the digital tools that allow for an appointment to be set.

One high-quality consumer experience at a time, brokerage brands, and consequently their agents, benefit. One high-quality agent experience at a time, the brokerage brand, and the brokerage itself, benefits.

Exceptional agents (those who do the bulk of the industry’s sales) have unceasing dedication to clients and the emotional IQ to manage the human side of the transaction. They’re the primary reason that professional real estate agents and brokers are still heavily employed by consumers today, while other industries have been decimated by technology disruption.

Technology is part of the answer, but it’s not a defensible primary value proposition when your success is defined by independent contractors who create your business through their relationships. If you’re in the brokerage business, you’re a people company. 

NAR’s Director of Member Engagement, Nobu Hata, said it best recently: “People can’t take this away from you unless you let them.”

The path to ruin for the real estate brokerage world is to cede the ownership of the complex, emotional, human side of the transaction.  

So, build a task management bot. Buy predictive analytics products that allow you to know when to make the most effective contacts. Invest in software that removes transactional friction.

At the same time, prioritize and focus on supporting the best possible customer experience during the points of human interaction from consumer to agent and agent to broker. Put it at the top of the strategic plan, and spend your resources accordingly. 

Don’t succumb to the technology myopia that’s plaguing real estate’s brokerage business leaders. By the time you’ve completely abandoned supporting the human side of the business, someone else will have taken your place. You’ll be left, ironically, as what you’ve tried to become — just a technology company.

On Upstream

The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m about to follow that diatribe by geeking out on tech.  

If you have any voice in the conversation about Upstream, you need to listen to Greg Robertson’s interview of Victor Lund on Listing Bits. Yes, it’s down in the weeds. Sometimes it takes time to really flesh out a complex topic or two (the Broker Public Portal section gets even wonkier).

There are plenty of folks who have reasonable concerns about Upstream and its viability, but understanding the entire picture of what Upstream is should be a prerequisite to criticism.

The scale of what Upstream could do for the industry is immense. Forget for a moment about controlling listing distribution (though that’s a valuable task); there’s a vast amount of value in Upstream’s other functions.

Every franchisor, broker and MLS should understand the data management side of the project. It’s a big, bold, audacious project to envision and build.

Upstream through a different lens

Imagine 30 years ago when no businesses were on the internet. They might have had computers; they were probably passing papers and floppy disks around, and maybe, they had hard-wired an office network. Every storefront, every city, every state had different, disconnected systems. 

Pitch the internet to them: standardized file sharing systems, instantly integrated communications, lightning-fast application upgrades, information update, access and download from across the entire world at your fingertips. You just have to change the way you input your data so we can help you use it everywhere else. 

They’d probably balk. “It’s too much work. We don’t need all of that. What we have is working now.” 

That’s the flavor of the pushback that Upstream hears. Imagine the possibilities first, without letting the fear of the work ahead to get in the way.  

Most brokers probably don’t contemplate a fraction of how transformative this solution could be for their businesses. There are radical improvements possible for vendor relationships that are essential for client records, office rosters, accounting systems, syndication networks, transaction management, company and franchisor websites, marketing tools, CMA, IDX/VOW, keyboxes, e-signatures, intra-office communications, etc.

They could all be vastly more efficient, giving you more time to focus on your people. 

Give the Listing Bits interview a listen. You’ll probably be surprised at how much you didn’t know about how the rest of the real estate industry works.

Sam DeBord is Managing Broker/VP of Strategic Growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth, Past President of Seattle King County Realtors, and 2018 Vice Chair of Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com

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