In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical Miami real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.
A mid-career Miami real estate agent is feeling threatened by the rise of Zillow, FSBO, etc., as replacements to the traditional real estate agent, and she is strongly considering a career change.
Ten years into a productive real estate career, and I can already see the writing on the wall: the robots are here to replace us. You think I’m overreacting? Tell that to the former automobile, travel or manufacturing industry employee for whom robotics, automation and other technology simply erased their job.
It is already happening to traditional residential real estate, where giant “disruptors” like Zillow, for sale by owner (FSBO), and our own realtor.com has allegedly taken away, repurposed and redefined what used to be solely ours.
Just a decade ago, my job was pretty simple: help people buy and sell homes.
My main source of competition was other agents, but that was simply part of the business, and it made us all better. The vast majority of my day involved dealing with people: buyers, sellers, prospects, colleagues, competitors, bankers, vendors, brokers, etc.
And most important of all, at the center of my day was the human act of explaining to buyers why they should live in a particular home — as we were actually standing in the home itself. The most technology I dealt with was getting my listing in the MLS, talking on the phone or taking some photographs.
Today, I feel as if technology drives the job, instead of the other way around.
Buyers and sellers have become exponentially savvier with access to the same information we have, and they constantly question the basis for my commission. And with Zillow, FSBO, etc., able to reach more eyeballs and strategically find buyers using crazy-advanced data algorithms, maybe they have a point? I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet, but I am starting to think about a new career path.
No one said this career would be easy, or that it would always stay the same. And just like all facets of life, the strongest, smartest and best among us learn to adapt and thrive in new situations.
This has always been the case in a capitalistic society, and real estate is no exception. But with respect to technology, I see it clearly enhancing our profession — not replacing it.
Agents who embrace and maximize the technology at their disposal have more power to market and sell than ever before. Clients absolutely do look for agents who are considered the “experts” on things like single-listing websites, virtual tours, drone and high-definition video and photography, and internet/social media marketing.
Other important factors technology provides are convenience and speed.
Let’s say another agent has a listing and receives an offer from my tech-challenged agent. The parties negotiate, come to a verbal agreement, and the listing agent gets her client to sign the revised offer.
She sends the offer to the buying agent on a Friday at 5 p.m., and — uh oh! — the buyers are going out of town camping for the weekend, but verbally agree to sign upon return. The listing agent asks if there is any sort of electronic signature capability (which has almost become standard practice these days), but my agent does not.
Two hours later, another offer arrives to the listing agent via email. By law, the listing agent must submit to the sellers, and this new offer is $10,000 more and all-cash. The sellers accept this new offer, the listing agent rescinds the previous offer, and a fun camping weekend has been ruined — all because my agent didn’t have the means for her clients to sign electronically.
So, the reality is that this agent does need to keep up with technology if she wants to stay relevant and competitive. And I hope she does because she is absolutely right about one thing — technology in real estate is great, but it can only do so much.
The core role of an agent was, is and always will be to help people see themselves in that home, and that does require human traits of empathy, emotion and sensuality.
Prospects need to touch the newly painted cabinets, smell the vacuumed bedrooms, see the well-manicured lawn, hear the kids playing outside, taste the candy left for them in the foyer, feel the security of good schools and neighbors — and a great agent points all this out; one human being to another.
This is still the core job, and one that no robot or website can ever duplicate. (And this is even before we get into negotiation, another intrinsically “human-to-human” interaction.)
How to meet halfway
Although it is each agent’s responsibility to keep up with industry technology, the broker can create workshops (perhaps led by more tech-savvy agents) to help educate those who feel left behind.
For example, one session could be on the use of smartphones and mobile apps, another on Facebook ads, another on listing-specific websites, etc.
The broker should also arm agents with tools to counter challenges made by sellers about online services such as Zillow and Trulia.
This may include flyers or pamphlets that highlight the clear advantage agents have over these services, such as real-world market awareness; accurate and up-to-the-minute market data; or knowledge about improvements or damages to a particular listing that would be unknown at the macro level.
Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, leading the activities of more than 170 agents. He is also a working Realtor who sells more than 125 homes a year. In 2017, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce honored him with the R.E.A.L. award in the category of “Real Estate Broker – Residential.”