Keller Williams CEO Gary Keller and many of his franchise peers and broker owners are suddenly obsessed with building real estate platforms for their agents.
These big companies are building platforms to stay relevant in the disruption age. They will be deployed to retain and recruit agents, increase their productivity and create consumer awareness.
The franchise firms missed the home search opportunity 10 years ago and they are three years behind the well-capitalized iBuyer stampede. Now, they have identified platforms as the holy grail for creating a better relationship with their agents. Makes sense.
Welcome the platform. Easy to talk about, but this technology undertaking is very difficult for a non-tech company to take on. Just look at the stumbling Upstream project for evidence. And consider Zillow and Redfin already have robust platforms. That makes the stakes higher and Keller and others understand that.
The landscape is littered with failed tech adventures by franchises
They have never quite figured out how to play ball in the technology big leagues. Their PR is convincing but achieving a noble tech vision requires flawless execution. Building all-purpose technology requires a different set of skills than creating a vast network of real estate agents. Equally daunting, but the DNA is different.
The end game to any platform strategy is the data: valuable agent and consumer information. Keller peddles fear to his agents about not giving up their data to the big bad wolf Zillow. But he too wants to get his hands on this information, albeit indirectly.
All of the companies — portals, franchises and sophisticated broker owners — promise to protect agent data. KW has made a pledge to protect agent data, it reads, “We will always respect your data as your business and we will always allow you to take your data with you.”
But let’s not kid ourselves about their motives, to get the information themselves as well, or at least use it.
The agenda is agent retention, but the agent data in all likelihood will be used to sell mortgage, title, escrow and property management services.
Here is how it might work
Later this year, KW is promising a powerful new consumer app that its agents can extend to their clients. If successful, Keller will have a hold on his agents as he builds a consumer brand. His agent app Kelle is already in the field.
Think about it. Troy, the homebuyer, works with KW agent, Amber, to buy a house in Austin.
Amber shares the consumer app, Troy downloads it and they trek the home buying journey together online.
Then, Amber gets a big fat offer from Compass. Will she walk away from her customer database that lives inside that consumer app relationship with Troy? If she exits, her client stays on the KW app.
Gary Keller wants a grip on Amber and her customers — the goal is retention. That is understandable if KW builds the technology. Any company building platforms today has more or less the same agenda, including Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Zillow and Redfin. Platforms are about controlling or at least accessing customer information.
Keller is right, do not be naive about this fact.
In the end, this stuff comes down to trust
For more than 50 years, loyalty has been at the heart of the relationship between agents and their franchise, starting with the launch of Century 21 in 1963. Agents wore the C21 gold blazers for decades as a symbol of pride and loyalty.
Gurus have been a big part of that loyalty. Consider the love for Dave Liniger at RE/MAX. Many of his agents would jump out of a RE/MAX hot air balloon for their fearless leader.
Then comes Gary Keller, the all-time master of magnetic attraction. Like Liniger before him, he divides the world into friends and foes and has a tribe of loyalists who believe fervently that he is on their side. He and Liniger have made lots of people very wealthy over the years.
With a softer touch and tech chops, Glenn Sanford at eXp has the same cult-like following. Compass CEO Robert Reffkin is another next generation personality with a fast-growing cast of believers.
RE/MAX, KW, eXp and even Compass all preach: trust me, follow me and my system will make you successful. They each offer a unique economic proposition. But there is something else, a pernicious devotion.
Do not fall prey to fear
Agents should not let their emotional loyalty cloud pragmatic technology choices.
Nor should fear-baiting drive important business decisions. Instead, what gives you the best edge in the market and who provides the superior tools for creating a better consumer experience?
The good news? You have an abundance of choices.
It reminds me of television. For decades, three networks — CBS, ABC and NBC — were your only options.
Today, TV offers hundreds of cable channels and thousands of streaming options.
Tune into real estate: should I watch the Zillow platform, or change the channel to Redfin, or to MoxiWorks, or to Realogy’s Zap engine or to my broker’s platform or to my favorite technology company? Or should I wait for coming-soon shows from Keller Williams, Compass and RE/MAX?
Revel in the choices, but be smart about who you choose. The stakes are high for you, for your clients and for your data.
And remember, you have the power. Don’t give it up for the wrong reasons.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated (7:50 am PST) since it was published earlier this morning.
Brad Inman will be joining real estate’s leaders this April 8-10 for Inman’s annual retreat, Disconnect in the Desert, in Palm Springs. It’s an invite-only gathering, and tickets are limited. If you think we missed you, drop us a line.