Rob Latufo isn’t sure going forward what commission structures will be like, what corporate entity he will be working for or how many transactions a year he will be able to derive from the mass of leads out there, but he’s sure of one thing: Agents need to stay relevant. What does that entail? Find out here.

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I live in the heartland of America: in Southwestern Missouri, Ozark country. I read the real estate news updates every day to learn about what’s going on in the business on a national level.

In some ways it would seem that we are insulated from the latest industry disruptions, whether it be iBuyers or mergers of giant real estate entities. But in reality, that is very far from the truth.

We have hundreds of brokers and thousands of agents in Missouri. We have independents and mega-brokerages and many of us depend on new technologies to help us work more efficiently.

In many ways, I feel like our market is more typical of the real America than the testing grounds we hear about in New York, Las Vegas, Phoenix and so on. I have read theories about “agent-centric,” “customer-centric” and “property-centric” strategies. Most of the time, all this jargon just leaves me scratching my head in confusion.

I’m not sure going forward what commission structures will be like, what corporate entity I will be working for or how many transactions a year I will be able to derive from the mass of leads out there, but I’m sure of one thing: Our job as agents, is to stay relevant. I really believe that no matter what these powerhouse corporations come up with, they will always need boots on the ground.

I have been hearing that Zillow is changing its focus from trying to work with all agents to trying to work with just the best agents. This makes sense on many levels, but what about the other 90 percent, the middle of the road, where is their place?

I’m sure in your local market, you have a tiered system of brokerages. Some will cater to the high-end market, some will cater to repos and flippers. It’s going to be a long, long time before Silicon Valley researchers come up with algorithms to work through all of those transactions on the myriad of different levels.

We already have the equivalent of iBuyers around here. They’re “for-sale-by-owners” (FSBOs), cash flippers and courthouse-step buyers. We have some very large (multimillion-dollar) estate transactions that are only ever going to be handled by tried-and-tested agents and brokerages. And everything in between. Ugly homes to cattle ranches.

We also have our share of young millennials, who have searched and researched properties online and then will call a Realtor like me, already knowing what they want.

Will I eventually become just a transaction agent for these deals, working for a national online entity for a small fee? Or will I step back and stay the full-service agent who helps grandpa sell the house, orchestrates the yard sale, finds him an apartment and a storage unit, and helps him relocate his cats? I’m not sure.

I think many of us are going to be in a quandary over which line to get in. Right now it’s a mixed bag, and many of us are surviving by trying to stay up-to-date, following all the reasonable leads we can find and working hard.

It’s true that in the equations that many of these headline makers are compiling, we don’t even exist as a variable. But we do exist, and in the end, I think this may be one of the biggest mistakes they’re making. America is not all like New York or Las Vegas.

People want human contact, especially if they can find an educated professional who can help them on one of the biggest decisions of their life. Human interaction does matter, it matters in every transaction, whether it’s buying a cell phone, an automobile or a home.

It’s our job to stay informed, relevant and valuable. I hope that while they are making their big, important decisions, the giants of the industry can keep that (and us) in their equation.

Here are five things we can do to stay relevant in this sea of change, regardless of our location or the size of our market:

  1. Never put our own goals ahead of our clients’ needs. Nothing sours a relationship quicker than the feeling that an agent is trying to sell them something that’s not the right fit.
  2. Remember, every lead is a potential client. Sometimes the best customers are nurtured out of the most challenging situations. Find common ground, and explore what your customer really wants and expects from you.
  3. Stay on top of the situation. Our clients want us to be informed, experienced and wise to the real estate market and to have access to all the resources that are available.
  4. Work with, not against new technology. Paperless transactions, instant response and multilevel communications can make the difference between a good impression and a lost opportunity.
  5. Be a positive responder. I always try to stress the importance of cooperation with peers. Whether it’s a lender, inspector or another agent, a successful transaction is a team effort, and there is no room for  negative energy in the mix. Be the agent people are happy to work with!

It’s a bold new landscape out there for agents. We have oodles of information at our fingertips, including property and lead contact data. We can communicate via voice, video, text or email. We can link up with our broker or other agents via the internet; we can work remotely from any location.

So if all this can be accomplished via phone and computer, how can we hope to stay relevant?

The answer is that we are the interface to the consumer. We are the conduit that can present, explain and negotiate the complex elements of the transaction. Instant offers and “buy it now” transactions are still looming in our future, but I think they will remain a small piece of the overall puzzle.

Just like REOs, foreclosures and auctions, they will be significant, but I firmly believe there will always be room for a friendly, experienced agent in most transactions.

That’s where I want to be, and I’ll work hard to stay relevant.

How do you stay ahead in a changing market? Inman Connect Las Vegas — Featuring 250+ experts from across the industry sharing insight and tactics to navigate threat and seize opportunity in tomorrow’s real estate. Join over 4,000 top producers, brokers and industry leaders to network and discover what’s next, July 23-26 at the Aria Resort. Hurry! Tickets are going fast, register today!

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SAVE MY SEAT

Rob Lotufo is aRE/Max Lakeside Realtor who works in Barry, Lawrence, McDonald and Stone counties of Southwest Missouri. Connect with him on Facebook and Instagram

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