Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent the past six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
If one reads just about anything printed in the real estate news space, one will see article after article proclaiming the impending demise of real estate as we know it.
iBuyers are going to ruin everything.
So-and-so is developing the next “Zillow killer.”
Agents that “feed the beast” and buy leads (the horror!) are contributing to the demise of the real estate industrial complex.
We’ve got to take back the data and our value proposition!
Poppycock, balderdash, nonsense.
The other day I was rummaging around, looking for something — I don’t even remember what. What I found was an old notebook, with “Write this Real Estate Book,” scrawled across the front cover.
Inside were copious notes taken in my real estate selling days. Notes of buyer and seller horror stories that anyone with a real estate license more than a month old is familiar with.
There was “Sally the Seller,” whose buyer’s lender went missing in action for three weeks, only to come forth with a demand for income verification — two days before the scheduled closing.
There was “Joe the Buyer,” who after several months finally found his dream home and had an accepted offer. Things were moving right along until the inspector crawled down from the attic, proclaiming, “Wow, there must have been a hell of a fire here.”
Said fire was, naturally, not disclosed by the sellers. They, “didn’t think it mattered,” since the home had basically been rebuilt.
Yeah, the buyer lost his mind.
Then came the story of “Mike and Molly.” Young first-time buyers with a five-year old who were on a quest to find a home in a specific school district they wanted their child to attend. Sifting through piles of listings, it seemed like every third one they looked at misidentified the school district for the property. Their frustration grew daily.
Every one of these stories, and the dozens more in my notebook, involved a consumer who was frustrated with the homebuying and selling process.
Every one of these stories required the intervention of a real estate agent in order to keep the transaction together.
Any agent or broker reading this probably knows that in addition to needing a real estate sales license, a great agent also needs to add counseling, therapy and psychoanalysis to their bag of tricks that are sometimes needed to consummate a real estate transaction.
Humans are complex creatures with a wide variety of needs, wants and desires.
Buying or selling real estate is an emotional, expensive, life-changing, infrequent and complicated process. Other than “complicated,” there isn’t much technology can offer when it comes to dealing with these matters.
The human brain vs. an app
In the hands of a good development team, a piece of software can do some amazing things. It can sift through mountains and countless flight options and help us jet off to wherever our hearts, and wallets, allow us to go.
Thanks to technology, I can deposit and transfer money into my bank account from the comfort of my bed.
Want to attend a training class in your PJ’s or from the beach? No problem — tether your phone’s WIFI to your laptop and log into a webinar being held on the other side of the continent.
I once wrote an offer for an investor client from my iPad, uploaded it to the Cloud and my client was able to electronically sign the offer while in a plane at 30,000 feet, somewhere over Montana — on a home they had only viewed via video, with an agent they never met in person, or even talked to in real-time over the phone.
Our customer relationship manager (CRM) allowed us to reach a database of thousands with the stroke of a key.
All of the above are examples of how technology can increase your business and make life easier for your clients.
But all the apps on the planet can’t compete with the human brain. That lumpy mass of tissue that resides inside your skull is the most powerful and unique “app” ever developed. It runs circles around the best developers on the planet.
Imagine an app taking a call from, “Mike and Molly,” and talking them off the ledge, encouraging them and helping facilitate getting the right information.
Imagine an app working through Joe’s concern about a fire lurking in the history of their dream home and helping him understand that there are other dream homes out there.
Apps don’t have feelings, they don’t have compassion, they can’t process multi-channel thoughts and experiences. The human brain, however, can do exactly that and more.
No machine can replace me
Back in the day, there was a semi-popular saying that went along the lines of, “No machine can replace me until it learns to drink.”
Yes, that was said mostly in jest, but there is a lot of truth in there too.
Drinking, be that a soda, an iced tea or a extra-dry martini, is a wholly human activity (well, animals drink too, but work with me people). Machines don’t drink. Software can’t step in and make a human feel comfortable and secure in their homebuying or selling adventures. An app can’t rationalize with a buyer or seller who’s in the process of losing their mind and throwing in the towel.
Machines, software and apps can help us be more efficient. More efficiency means we can help more people buy and sell with less pain. But software can’t replace human ingenuity or empathy. Oh, I suppose that in the distant future technology could produce a cyborg complete with a multitasking “brain” and an empathy chip, maybe even one that eats, drinks, defecates and can’t be distinguished from a human unless you cut them and find hydraulic fluid in the place of blood.
That’s the stuff of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars. That’s all happening in a galaxy far, far away. It’s decades away from reality in this corner of the universe.
Until the technology exists to replace human ingenuity and empathy, agents need to stop obsessing over what they think will replace them. Leverage technology to increase your efficiency. Use technology to communicate with your clients, to help you cover a larger prospect area, to convert more inquiries into clients.
Stop obsessing over being replaced. No tech is going to replace you in this lifetime. Maybe someday an automaton cyborg who thinks, multitasks and empathizes like a human will be built and that will give real estate agents something to really fear.
Until then, keep being human and focus your energy and effort on providing a stellar customer service experience with a healthy dose of empathy. Leverage technology for efficiency, stop fearing it.
Do that, and you have zero to worry about when it comes to being replaced by technology.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.