Erica Ramus is an indie broker and a tech geek in Pennsylvania. Her regular monthly column publishes on Thursdays and covers and array of topics including recruiting, independent brokerage, technology and social issues.
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It seems every other real estate media headline involves technology or disrupters — and sometimes they are both the subject of the same article. Upstarts brag their technology will make traditional brokerages obsolete. More traditional franchises announce they now are technology companies. Even older, even more traditional companies hustle to build their own platforms, all in the pursuit of bigger market share and higher agent head counts.
At National Association of Realtors 2019 Broker Summit in Austin last month, Jeff Turner moderated a panel of brokers who tackled the topic of technology’s role in your brokerage. I was on the panel, along with Barbara Betts (The Betts Realty Group, Inc., Long Beach, California) and Philip Becker (Becker Properties, Austin, Texas).
All three of us are small indie brokers — and tech geeks. I love pursuing the shiny new object and going down the rabbit hole of beta testing a new platform, and I believe Betts and Becker also struggle with this distraction as well, which is how we ended up on the conference stage.
After having the discussion, I realize there are several technology truths that indie brokers can learn from. Here they are:
1. Tech isn’t a replacement
One major takeaway from the session was that technology is simply a tool to get the job done. Technology cannot replace personal relationships — with your agents or with your clients.
Technology is not a magic potion that will make a bad or mediocre agent turn into a top producer. You cannot bring a new tech tool into the office if it doesn’t solve a pain point or make the transaction easier for all parties.
Technology for technology’s sake — for bragging rights — is a waste of your time and money.
2. There’s never a perfect match
A second important point is that technology does not have to be real estate-specific to work for you and your particular situation. One size does not fit all. Any broker who’s sat down and tested transaction management platforms knows that is true.
Last year, I went through every product I could find, playing with a dozen 30-day trials. I liked pieces of one and elements of another. I sat analyzing the pros and cons, pricing levels and ease of use for each one until I settled on the one that fit my needs the best.
I’ve been using it for half a year now, and it’s not perfect, but I’ve come to realize that unless I build it from scratch, I won’t ever be 100 percent satisfied. But what I’m using now meets most of my needs, and I can work around the rest.
3. There are lots of options, and they aren’t all pricey
Betts did the same when she was searching for CRM platforms and ended up building a custom design on top of the Salesforce platform. Turner emphasized to the group that there are plenty of generic (not real estate-specific) tech tools out there that might work to fill out your office suite.
Just as Betts took a product she liked and was able to tweak it to her specific needs, she also mentioned her office embraces Slack for communication and tracking work flows.
Other brokers I’ve spoken to heavily use Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive and other free products for running their offices. Technology does not have to be expensive — but it does have to make sense for your particular needs, and it must serve a purpose to attain agent adoption.
4. The adoption struggle is real
On the subject of agent adoption, the brokers on the panel agreed adoption is a real struggle.
In my own office, I’ve seen a one-third rule: one-third will eagerly use any tech I bring to them and embrace it, one-third will do it because I said they must do it, and one-third will ignore it and do things their own way.
If you accept this and move from there, you won’t be as frustrated when you realize not all of your agents are fully utilizing the tools you provide (and pay for) to them. Some tech you might be able to mandate 100 percent adoption (form software or digital signing, for example). Others just won’t take off, for whatever reason.
5. It must solve pain points
Years ago when safety first came on our radar due to the Beverly Carter murder, I sought out an app to help keep my agents safer. I brought in a downloadable app where the agents could track their showings.
They were to click to turn it on when a showing started, and then click to turn it off when they were safe in their car. It was GPS-enabled, and on my dashboard, I could tell when they were showing houses, where they were and when they were safely leaving the house.
Not a single agent in my office wanted to download the app, and that idea withered on the vine. Their safety was my concern. Perhaps today with Find My Phone and other GPS-enabled apps commonplace they might react differently.
Technology needs to solve a pain point for your agents and make their lives easier (but apparently not safer), or you won’t get agent buy-in.
6. A brokerage’s value proposition isn’t tech
Becker added that technology is crucial to running his brokerage. But it’s not necessarily crucial to agent recruitment or retention or the key to overall success in this business.
I am working on a survey of agents who have switched firms, and one of the takeaways is that very few agents leave a broker because of their technology offerings, and few choose their new broker because of the shiny new tools.
They leave for other reasons, but an amazing tech platform is not the top draw (more on that next month).
7. Indies have the ability to pivot
Being indie brokers, we have the advantage of being able to run fast and lean. We can turn on a dime and pursue new technologies when they hit our radar.
If I decide to bring a new vendor in, I first test it myself. I learn the platform, spend time (probably too much time) entering data and customizing it to my office. I then try to test it from the agent perspective.
If it really solves a problem and makes their lives easier, I then roll it out to the firm. I personally train on any new tech, even if the vendor offers training as part of the package — because I want it done my way, tweaked to my brokerage’s unique needs, which the vendor may or may not understand.
Big franchises may have more money than I do and tech teams to develop software in-house, but I believe we have an advantage in being able to pivot and adjust to market conditions much quicker. We need to keep in mind bigger is just bigger — not necessarily better.
Asked what business we are in, we emphatically stated as a group that we are in the real estate business. We help people buy and sell homes. We broker transactions and guide people in what might be the largest purchase of their lives.
Tech helps us improve communication with our clients. Tech helps us keep track of the transactions. Tech does not calm down the buyer who is panicking over the home inspection or the seller who is upset over the appraisal.
We are not technology companies. Technology helps us do our jobs. But ultimately, we are in the people business. We build relationships, solve problems and guide people home. We are real estate companies.