Teresa Boardman is a long-time columnist with 400-plus Inman columns under her belt. She writes about her real estate observations and experiences as an officeless indie broker in Minnesota.
It is interesting to watch the technology race going on between the big real estate companies. Under their business models, they believe they need to provide technology for their agents — and that the company with the best technology wins.
We don’t have a definition of exactly what technology is, so I have to use my imagination. I worked with one real estate company that had “technology,” but it was mostly about getting agents to do their own data entry so that they could run with a smaller staff.
There is a lot of hype about technology in the real estate industry. Can real estate companies continue to pay for new technology and make a profit? More importantly, how do you get real estate agents to use the technology? Does the use of technology result in more sales? Will the company with the best technology win and if so, what will they win?
So many unanswered questions, so much to learn about the agent technology we think we know so much about — so where do we begin?
The truth about tech
There is one universal truth about technology in real estate: most agents won’t use it. Is being the first to build the best agent platform really a win? If the technology replaces agents, then maybe.
From the time I first started working in the real estate industry back in 2002, I have been continually amazed by how little agent technology actually gets used by agents, and when I look at what does get used I notice it gets used minimally. Despite this, many agents are drawn to anything that looks like an easy way to untold riches.
By 2002, email was a pretty mainstream tool. I remember being surprised by how many agents checked their email once a week on the computer in the resource room at the big brokerage. I’ll bet there are still agents who need to go to the office to check their email.
That same company sold agents proprietary software that accessed data from our MLS. I soon discovered that when I searched the MLS, I got more results than when I used the company’s proprietary software, so I stopped using the software.
Getting a grip on tech
I encounter agents who have to “drive to the office” to “make copies” and drive all over town to get signatures. The agents claim they are providing customer service, but there are other times their clients would prefer that they use electronic signatures, but the agent doesn’t know how.
Even the agents who do not use the technology will tell me that their company offers great technology. I think they are just repeating what their company tells them. We don’t really know which company has the best technology. Maybe my company has the best technology.
Sometimes I meet agents who become upset when asked to use a new system. They will explain in great detail why the way they are doing things really is better. They turn excuses into reasons to justify their unwillingness to try something new.
Most real estate agents have smartphones, but I am amazed by how many don’t know how to use them for more than text messages and posting to Facebook or searching for the closest coffee shop. They don’t know how to manage the phone and it manages them as they are bombarded by alerts day and night that they feel the need to respond to.
Using tech safely
When it comes to data security, I have heard agents say the darndest things — like that they have one password for everything and they last changed it five years ago and it is their spouse’s date of birth. Their computers have no password because they are afraid of getting locked out.
They are afraid to use a banking app on their phone, but they don’t worry about sending an email or transferring funds from a public WIFI at a coffee shop.
Nothing on their computer has ever been backed up and isn’t password protected, and they leave the thing sitting in plain sight on the passenger seat of their parked car. I am happy to let someone else recruit those agents. I cannot afford them.
There are agents who have one ancient laptop that they use for everything. They will tell you that their old laptop is better than the new ones and that they like the old operating system better. They don’t understand the multiple risks associated with unsupported obsolete operating systems.
One twenty-something agent who is considered “tech-savvy” found a virus on her computer so she bought a desktop storage drive and copied all of her files onto it. She then reformatted the hard drive on the computer with the virus and was never able to get the computer working again.
After she bought a replacement laptop she went ahead and copied her data and the virus from her portable drive onto her new computer.
A lot of time is spent training agents to use the technology that they won’t use. When agents are in training over and over again — even if they are paying for their own training — they could be spending their time selling real estate and adding to the bottom line.
When real estate agents have problems with their phone, an app or a computer, they go on Facebook and ask for solutions. They don’t always understand that other real estate agents are not the best source for all of their tech needs and that people like me are lurking, reading and judging.
Most agents are not asking who owns the data they are putting into databases owned by the real estate company and what happens to it when they switch real estate companies.
There are people who are qualified but afraid to start their own real estate company because they don’t have “technology.” To them, I say everyone has access to technology that can be used to build a brokerage. If you know how to exploit that technology, you can actually start your own company.