Seven years ago, I said that buying a home should be as easy as making a latte. My theatrics weren’t enough to make that vision possible. But a pandemic is doing the trick today.

Seven years ago, I laid out my latte vision for buying a home at Connect in SF where I ended by slamming an eight-inch stack of paper from my last home sale onto the stage floor. The AV team rigged a ground-level microphone so the thud would be louder. My call to action was that buying a home should be as easy as buying a latte.

My theatrics were not enough to make such a vision possible then. But a pandemic is doing the trick today.

Thanks to digital technology already in place, buying, renting and selling a home is getting easier and easier. Long after the pandemic subsides, these days will be remembered as the beachhead leading to a permanent change in the gnarled up process of owning a house.

Digital better than live

How we see houses has changed thanks to the abundance of virtual walk-through technology. Agents have always had access to this tech but they are finally using it. People are more than comfortable seeing houses this way and they are packed with information that you don’t get when actually visiting a home. Digital info is deeper and easier to digest and not superficial like a one-page marketing flyer. Plus pouring over paper disclosures is like studying an old phone book.

We are finally emulating the virtual info-imaging that has been common in car sales for 10 years.

How we interact with agents has changed dramatically as well. So much can be done more efficiently with Zoom and other video programs. Discussing prices with sellers, explaining documents and sharing market information with buyers is more effective than being live. You are not distracted like you can be when walking through the house, interrupted by chit chats and not really paying attention when stuck in traffic with an agent. Plus, when you walk through a house it’s actually pretty superficial versus studying each room during a detailed and well done virtual tour.

My agent can’t do screen sharing when I meet with her live, unless she stumbles around with paper docs or awkwardly opens her iPad as I look over her shoulder. Worse, she says she’ll email me the info later and I don’t get the color from the agent walking through it together. Digital works better.

Plus, who hasn’t cried, laughed and made personal reveals with family members and friends on Zoom these days. Yes, we can make true human connections and exhibit empathy and compassion virtually, which is so critical for moving a home sale forward.

Zoom is here to stay

Consider that the market capitalization of Zoom is greater than all of the major airlines together. Last week, Warren Buffet dumped his airline stocks because he realized that business travel will be anemic at best long into the future thanks to Zoomification. The same holds true for real estate.

We are also seeing so many tools being deployed today that in the past too many agents were lazy about using. Integrated CRMs, cloud CMAs, digital offers, e-signatures and even virtual closings.

Trulia founder Peter Flint said that phase one of the online real estate movement was giving consumers information. Phase two is the “transaction,” making it easier for people to close a deal.

He said most of the venture capital being deployed today is focused on that, literally billions of dollars on once boring back office stuff like smart contracts, instant offers, digital title insurance, cloud escrow and easy mortgages.

Finally, the backend will be transparent, like what happened with the front-end when we put listings on the Internet.

The Freddy Krueger of real estate

The home loan process was always the worst step, fraught with so many delays, missteps and nightmares for consumers and for real estate agents.

But even that is about to change. I recently chatted with loanDepot founder Anthony Hsieh who said the industry has never deployed more technology to make the loan process easier. 

“We have no choice,” Hsieh said.

Also independent mortgage lenders (non-banks) like Quicken Loans, loanDepot and many others are gobbling up mortgage share from big banks like Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo. The big boys who are often the most bureaucratic are overwhelmed right now with other financial problems and are giving home loans a low priority. 

The more agile non-bank, independent mortgage companies are quicker to adopt technology and make the process easier for the consumer.

“Nothing will be the same and the consumer will win,” said Hsieh.

Adding to mortgage innovation are more disruptive technologies like Divvy Homes which helps people own a house without a traditional mortgage or EasyKnock which permits homeowners to take liquidity out of their homes without moving or refinancing.

The final shoe to drop will be federal changes to notary laws and a few other steps along the way, preempting state laws and making virtual signings as easy as buying a latte.

With our backs against the wall, we are finally doing what must be done. The result in this more efficient virtual world will be more transactions. There will be fewer live hugs but happier customers.

Email Brad Inman

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