From online showings to all-digital signings and closings, the digital transaction has fully come into its own. All month, Inman examines the companies and technologies driving this new world of digital transaction.

In 2020, my favorite quote — by American writer Alvin Toffler — to share went like this: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those that cannot read or write, but those that cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” How many things have you had to learn, unlearn and relearn?

This quote was coupled with the speed of change that accelerated technology so rapidly that tools, ideas and concepts we were supposed to experience three to five years from now are here today

In short, this rapid evolution took place across six to 10 months, as opposed to years. Are we ready? Was that too fast? Yes and no. Thanks to the pandemic, there are some tech advancements, some business practices and some cultural shifts that I hope and pray never go away. 

Not all proptech is bad

One of the biggest and fastest advancements I felt in 2020 was in the proptech space. But first of all, what is proptech? Here is my favorite definition to describe it: “It’s a collective term used to define startups offering technologically innovative products or new business models for the real estate markets.”

While many people would place Zillow, Opendoor, Compass and other tech disruptors in this category — all of which may be considered “threats” to the industry — there are other really cool and fascinating tech ideas that are here to strengthen and empower the real estate industry as well.

I’m a self-proclaimed “tech geek” when it comes to real estate technology because I love it! But I don’t love all of it. For me, the best tech advancements are the ones that enhance the customer experience or allow the real estate professional to be more efficient.

I’m not a fan of technology that intends to replace the agent or automate relationships. In fact, that represents the very opposite of a relationship-based approach compared to a transaction-based approach. (I know, I know. Both approaches work, but the question is what direction the industry is headed and which one is better for the consumer.)

Back to the “good” proptech as opposed to the “bad” proptech. If the test is that it must enhance the customer experience and that it must not replace agents, but make them more efficient in building and maintaining relationships, what would your favorite tech tools and concepts be?

For me, it’s the digitization of the process. Digitizing escrow deposits and refunds (Yes! No more waiting on checks to clear). Digital real estate and mortgage e-closing products in conjunction with remote online notarization (RON) for safe and convenient closings. Artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to determine who in your database is likely to buy or sell real estate in the next 12 month.

A few more: Aggregated data on singular platforms so that you have the tools you need funneled from one source. Mobile-based transaction management forum that coordinates and communicates between all parties. Modernized selling solutions and platforms for today’s agent using iBuyers and other options to bridge the gap between a seller’s fears and the low inventory market.

These are just to name a few. I’m not here to promote a particular vendor, product, tool or service, but the reality is that if any of these ideas are foreign or futuristic to you, be advised: These proptech companies are here! 

Virtual business practices

Another advancement I believe we made as a result of the pandemic is the introduction to virtual communication. Virtual meetings, conferences, showings and open houses are good things. 

I understand we experienced virtual overload, but once the world is “set free,” a virtual experience should remain a part of our normal operating procedure. Here’s why, in no particular order:

  • It offers an additional choice.
  • It expands your reach.
  • It saves costs of doing business (minimizes time, money and energy wasted).
  • Allows “face-to-face” connections.
  • It’s just simply more efficient.
  • It’s safe. 
  • It inspires creativity.
  • Allows interactions with more people at the same time.
  • Reduces space and time limitations. You can “travel” the world quickly!
  • It’s easy, and it’s easily adaptable and adoptable.

If you are not embracing the virtual aspect of your business, you are losing opportunities right now. Using the popular platforms for video today will help you transition when the inevitable occurs — I’m talking virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).

VR, AR and MR are very likely to infiltrate the real estate space. So, try to see the future, and be ahead of the curve. The virtual experience, in moderation, is a necessary change we need to embrace and maintain long after the pandemic is resolved worldwide.  

Cultural shifts

Who else loves having their meals prepped, cooked and delivered? I do! Some of the best cultural shifts we’ve made come from the various industries’ fight to survive — and technology that works to bring solutions.

Restaurants and other public places had to get innovative about how they were going to evolve and then use relevant technology to survive under some very extreme (albeit necessary) conditions. All because we still needed to eat while also practicing physical distancing and staying safe. I can’t thank those drivers enough for picking up and dropping off food, groceries and alcohol.

A few other cultural shifts I saw occur (ones that I hope don’t recede post-pandemic) include watching big motion pictures legally at home as well as people’s move to the outdoors. Because gyms were shut down — and in some areas, we were extremely limited in where we could go — we sought refuge, not only on the screen, but more importantly, outside. Again, a change born of necessity and entrepreneurial survival.

As it relates to our industry, one of the biggest cultural shifts I hope consumers and employers embrace is with the flexibility of working from home. With the shift to working from home, people are moving where they want to live and not where they have to work. (With so many people are moving, technology, like the ones mentioned in this article, can help you tap into those listings.)

This is a powerful shift in mindset and opportunity, which I hope results in greater mental and physical wellness. Imagine living your best life in the mountains or at the beach house. Imagine it being your current living situation — not just a vacation!

This will be the future of real estate if we continue to embrace and enhance some of the positive improvements and advancements that come out of the pandemic. Using technology to find and market to these consumers (like artificial intelligence and predictive analytics) can have a profound effect on helping the right people at the right time, which not only improves the customer experience but also improves our function and efficiency in the real estate space.

Final thoughts

Now, I know that 2020 was a year of crisis, sadness, pain and fear for many people. This piece isn’t meant to diminish or defend the tumultuous effects of the pandemic. It’s simply my attempt to embrace some positive vibes and energy that we can use to fuel our momentum this year.  

With that being said, I understand that these changes are rapid, and for some it’s downright scary, but it’s a brave new world in 2021 where technology and consumer needs are moving into alignment at a quicker pace than I have ever expected.

My encouragement to you is: Don’t fight the speed of change. Embrace change, and embrace growth. We can’t go backward; we must go forward.

Kendall E. Bonner, Esq., is a broker-owner at RE/MAX Capital Realty in Florida. Connect with her on TwitterFacebookInstagram or LinkedIn

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