Agents and brokers need to embrace digital connections and a high-touch approach, leaders agreed at Inman Connect Now.

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Real estate agents and brokers that haven’t embraced new ways to do business and meet consumers could be facing extinction from the real estate industry due to changes brought on by COVID-19, Kendall Bonner, the broker/owner of RE/MAX Capital Realty said Tuesday during Inman Connect Now.

“[COVID-19] has really opened up and actually created a void and an opportunity for those of us who have been doing the things that we could or should be doing, to continue to doing them and doing them at a high level,” Bonner said. “It’s also created a vacuum, I think, for those that never did it, [those that] refused to make the changes and make those adjustments, and could possibly, create an extinction event.”

Bonner, speaking on a panel discussion titled “Tips for Managing Your Business Through Uncertainty,” isn’t a fan of talking about an industry-wide pivot, because she believes many in the real estate industry have already been doing many of the things that they need to do to serve customers. It’s the ones that didn’t change their business before, and are refusing to change now, that face extinction.

“The failure to learn, unlearn and re-learn will lead to extinction,” Bonner said.

A specific example is the way that agents engage consumers. Consumers have outright rejected many of the old ways that the real estate industry has relied on to do business, which has led to the implementation of “Do Not Call,” lists and local regulations on mailers and fliers. It’s also easier than ever to unsubscribe from an email list.

Video, social media and digital connections are more important than ever before, according to Bonner. The goal of each real estate agent should be to make the transaction more pleasurable for the consumer, and less stressful and painful.

“Those of us in business who are late to that party are looking down the barrel of extinction,” Bonner said. “That is what our customers are saying they want from us. They want to be entertained by us, they want to be educated by us.”

Bonner also offered advice to agents new to the world of creating digital connections, but are looking to adopt more social and video tools to connect with consumers: Don’t think of those consumers as leads and don’t approach the video like it’s a sales pitch.

“When you think about it from the perspective of, ‘Oh I’ve got to create some massive production to produce sales, to produce leads,’ that’s a lot more stressful than when you say it’s just about connecting, it’s just about deepening the digital relationships and taking what is online and getting it offline,” Bonner said.

“When you think about it from that perspective, it can really minimize the stress when contemplating these things.”

Tami Bonnell, the CEO of EXIT Realty, believes every agent and broker needs to adopt both a high-technology and high-touch approach to doing business in the wake of the pandemic.

“We’re changing some of the ways we go about business,” Bonnell said. “The people that embrace relationships and going high tech — and it’s got to be high tech and touch together, so they are building a really solid relationship and paying attention to what the consumer is looking for — they’ll excel and do extremely well.”

Bonnell said the broker-owner population in the real estate industry is one that is generally aging and 79 percent of brokerages have six agents or less. Many of those small boutique broker-owners are the brokerage’s top agent themselves.

Those small brokers now face a tough decision according to Bonnell: Merge with a bigger company that can handle the technology and provide guidance, or embrace the technology. For bigger, growing firms, there will be opportunities to acquire brokerages that aren’t embracing technology.

“We’re going to see brokers that are aging. We are going to some brokers that burn out. We are going to see some brokers that were honestly happier just listing and selling real estate and not responsible for people. And we’re going to see that shift,” Bonnell said. “They are going to have to have the willingness to embrace the technology.”

That doesn’t mean you have to be a technology specialist, rather, you just need to embrace the technology that the consumer is using. You need to meet the consumer expectations of speed, transparency and adaptability.

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