Despite the plethora of new tech and abundant online information, the fundamentals of the real estate transaction process remain the same.
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.
As I go back in time, I realize that a future of an easier and less expensive real estate transaction without the use of a real estate agent hasn’t happened. There are so many people with so much money spending it on technology that they hope will allow them to capture some of those dollars that are going into and out of agent wallets.
The amount of time and education it takes to get a real estate license hasn’t changed in decades. We still need the same number of continuing education unit hours to maintain a license. More of it is available over the internet, which is a plus, but the quality and the prices have stayed about the same.
New technology helps, but it’s hard to ditch old habits
We still use for-sale signs, but the posts are made of plastic instead of wood; and we still use lockboxes with combinations or Bluetooth, but so far, I haven’t seen one that works both ways. I mention this in case anyone is looking for a new idea.
The smartphone changed how and where we use technology on the job, but real estate agents still don’t answer the phone and can be hard to track down. The smartphone has replaced a few other pieces of hardware agents needed like the GPS, cameras and the little keypad used to unlock lockboxes.
The tablet was a great invention, but most agents use it as they would use a laptop or a smartphone or both. The device hasn’t made it easier to buy or sell real estate, but it has made it seem easier at times.
With so much information on the internet, I would have thought that by now we wouldn’t ever need to show houses to buyers or explain anything to them, but we still do. It still takes just as much time and gasoline, and most agents are still using cars that do not drive themselves.
Buyers still ask a lot of questions — which is surprising now that we have the internet. I don’t even try to talk homebuyers out of seeing a home before they make an offer.
We would all have more free time if they would just buy the house with one click over the internet without looking at it first or having it inspected. Inspections can really eat up time for buyer’s agents and for seller’s agents especially when there are issues, and there are always issues.
For the most part, contracts are created and signed electronically. There was a time when I believed technology would eliminate the need for paper, but it hasn’t.
People love paper — they need paper: Think of all the paper flyers, and disclosures too. There are still agents who don’t have a clue as to how to get something signed electronically. Instead of learning, they claim that wet signatures are better customer service.
The electronic contracts that I create and never print are printed by several other parties. Some real estate companies print them and give them to managers for review and then file them in file cabinets. I still have a file cabinet I use it to store camera equipment and other electronic equipment.
When I go to a closing, piles of paper still create small towers on tables. The contracts that were electronic, and that were signed electronically, are all printed out and put in a folder for my clients — who already have fully executed electronic copies.
Selling a home is faster, but that is because of the seller’s market not because of technology. Buying a home takes longer as buyers make offers on several houses before they get an offer accepted. So far technology isn’t addressing that issue at all. Technology helps agents send the first offer, but that offer is just going to get shopped around for a better offer, so what is the point?
The transactions processes have barely changed
I haven’t seen any change in the last 20 years in the average number of days between an accepted offer and a closing. The process may have changed for lenders, but the whole financing part of the transaction is still a kind of black hole. Occasionally little bits of information on loan status dribble out, or we call and ask for updates.
One of the best things to happen in the industry is the death of the fax machine, yet there are still times when various companies and government agencies and occasionally clients insist on receiving faxes. We still have the same documents that need to go to the same parties — they just get there via email or for some, via text message instead of fax.
The actual process of selling a house has changed little in the last 20 years. We still use advertising but not as much print advertising. Pictures are used for marketing — we just use more of them.
Using social media for marketing is a new thing, but most of the marketing I see is just like marketing before social media. There are pictures of houses and ads for houses for sale and the kind of standard “Call me, I can sell your house” advertising. Instead of mailing out postcards with recipes, agents put recipes and other stuff on their Facebook pages.
Real estate agents still hold open houses. They still knock on doors. They still cold call, and there are still brokers who encourage these practices because they still work sometimes, and they are inexpensive ways to prospect.
The scripts are pretty much the same too: Calling homeowners and letting them know that there are buyers looking for a home in the neighborhood right now. The only difference is that right now, lots of buyers are looking for houses in almost every neighborhood all the time.
For some reason, some consumers expect us to charge less because of technology. I haven’t figured that one out yet, but with the high cost of housing, I can understand why they want to look at ways to save money.
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