When it comes to innovation, you can hardly have a conversation about changing things up in real estate without mentioning eXp Realty, the brokerage franchisor that’s been experimenting with concepts like an all-remote agent force (they meet up and train online using avatars) and instant showings for buyer convenience. So Glenn Sanford, the CEO at eXp, is just the person you’d want to ask about how innovation can give you an edge in a changing market.

He’ll be participating in a panel discussion about how to light fires in the age of innovation at Inman Connect New York, January 29 through February 1 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square. We chatted with Sanford about how to keep innovating when the landscape is shifting beneath your feet and what’s next for eXp.

Tell us a little more about your session. How will it address how the industry can embrace the shifting market?

Obviously it is a changing marketplace, especially now that we are fully in a tech environment relative to residential real estate. It does impact the traditional agent who, generally speaking, just worked with the folks who were neighbors and friends and family. In the face of the other entrants into the industry, it’s a little daunting, and that’s the reality.

For agents who are looking at how to truly be their own social being online, their ability to connect with a larger community base, being active both online and offline in the community and creating awareness of what they do and how much they do for their community in addition to listing and selling homes — I think those agents are irreplaceable. Consumers still only do purchase or sell a home two to three times in their life as a general rule, and as a result they need to work with a professional through that process. In the absence of understanding who provides value, they’ll go in a different direction and find their agents from an online source because they haven’t seen someone step up and provide value to the marketplace. We are ambassadors for our community, and if we don’t actually promote our communities, we will struggle as real estate professionals.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities to focus on in the real estate industry right now?

It is a little challenging because you still have a broker-owner population that became broker owners pre-internet. So these broker-owners are 60-something years old, and there’s nothing against that, but they’re not recognizing as well as they should the toolset that they have available to them to build a true, online, valuable asset for the marketplace that they serve. Without that, the agents are going after those opportunities; they’re becoming, for lack of a better term, digital presidents.

So you have agents taking a large market share because they’ve figured out how to engage online, and these will be the future brokers. They understand their value to the community, and some broker-owners are losing market share in the face of brokers who understand this.

To stay competitive, agents, brokers and companies need to execute quickly. What do you feel are key areas where quick execution can vastly improve the customer experience?

Obviously you’ve got a standardized toolset that you need to provide for all of your agents — a good IDX, some transaction management tools, provide them a CRM … and if you don’t have those three things you pretty much don’t have a brokerage.

The next part of it is, where are you going to plant your flag? We thought about innovating around the compensation model, but others could innovate around a more robust toolset for advertising, and some do. Some are doing more around trying to come up with unique innovations that could potentially set their agents apart. Even if the technology doesn’t work yet in a meaningful way, they can show that progress is important to agents and help those agents stick around. Agents are attracted to that even if the broker hasn’t yet delivered on that vision. You just have to show that you’re innovating on behalf of the agent.

What are your hopes for the next 12 months, and what will you be working on?

Probably the same types of things we just talked about — how to provide a richer toolset to our agents so they can go out there and compete more effectively. We picked up a company earlier this year called ShowMeNow, and we think that instant showing offering is something our listing agents and buy-side agents will be attracted to. We just finished up an acquisition of our virtual world — bricks and mortar is generally a drag on the future brokerage, so the more we can focus on collaboration and innovating is going to be an important contribution to our agents, and also to the industry. Those are the types of things we’re focused on, those are unique to us and it’s not the traditional stuff. You can get quality products off the shelf and plug it into the brokerage, but to really think about innovating at the edges, we think that Uber-style showings and providing places for teams to work without having to physically be in a space are really important elements.

Discover the opportunities in a changing market at Inman Connect New York, January 29 – February 1. Jumpstart 2019 with tactical takeaways, unlimited networking and thought-provoking speakers. Learn more.

Thinking about bringing your team? You may qualify for special group perks! Contact us to learn more.

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