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“Technology” is a huge buzz word in the real estate industry that tends to get thrown around a lot in different permutations, like “tech-enabled” and “tech-centric,” but what does any of that actually mean?
Real estate tech platform Place’s president, Chris Stuart, and head of industry, Vija Williams, sat down with Inman’s Laura Monroe on Wednesday during a LinkedIn Live event entitled “How Technology is Transforming Real Estate” to unpack technology’s place in the industry.
Stuart and Williams agreed that that technology has almost taken over how real estate professionals think about the industry to the point that many other important components of running a real estate business get lost in the background.
“Unfortunately, technology has totally hijacked the industry conversation,” Stuart said. “We’ve really lost sight of our responsibility as leaders, as agents …”
“A lot of these tech companies have solutions that are in search of problems that don’t exist,” he added. “It becomes a distraction — it’s not disruption, it’s a distraction.
Stuart further explained that people in the industry need to refocus more on the real estate professional’s job, and think of tech as an “enablement” of that job.
“The overly simplistic part of me, this is how I think: ‘tech-centric’ is a bunch of humans powering a tech thing,” Williams said. “That’s not what Place is. [We] focus on tech to enable our people, to help us … focus on our mission.”
She elaborated that the company’s mission is to serve as many consumers as possible and in the best way possible. And in order to do that, real estate professionals need to be “tech-enabled,” or use technology to help them conduct different parts of their business smoothly, like handling 100 different leads at different stages all at once.
“The tech is going to prompt me to make the call and prompt me to send the email,” Williams said.
While specifying that effectively using technology in real estate is, therefore, about making it part of an agent’s or a team’s ecosystem of business, Monroe encouraged Stuart and Williams to discuss the sustainability of tech tools in real estate.
“If I’m a leader in the real estate world, I’m thinking about, how do I create an environment for my agents that is repeatable and profitable and sustainable?” Stuart said. “For me, that means, can I do the same thing [with systems and scale] over and over again [while being profitable]? Can I predict that if I do these same things next year that I’ll get the same or better results?”
Another challenge the group saw for technology in the industry is the vast array of terminology that often goes hand-in-hand with different tech tools, necessitating that agents adopt the role of a translator of sorts in order to parse through the function of these different tools — which, often might have different names, but serve the same purpose.
“‘Social media’ used to be the word for ‘technology,'” Monroe pointed out. “And that can be kind of a distraction for leaders — it can work, but again, it goes toward that vanity metric.”
Rather than shop around with different real estate technology vendors, Williams explained that Place instead created its own proprietary in-house technology so that real estate agents and teams the company partners with could focus on what they do best in serving the consumer, while Place handles the back-end, with fleets of dedicated human resources, accounting, operations, advertising and marketing teams.
There are so few businesses in our space that have their own in-house technology. What we didn’t do is shop around all the recruiting software, no we just built it in 60 days.
“I think about it as B2B and B2C,” Stuart explained. You look at a lot of the tech and the way the agents present themselves to their customers, so what we’re really focused on is that B2B2C extension … What is the customer experience that we’re aiming for and how are we creating that? Those will really be the winners in the end, is who provides a really elegant B2B2C experience for the customers.”
The types of systems that Place is creating and distributing to agents that support repeatable, scalable business are the ones that will help attract the best of the best in the future, Stuart and Williams argued.
“I think scale has to be part of the conversation,” Williams said. “I think of Place as pouring gasoline on a fire. All of our operators are doing really well when we talk to them. These are really successful teams who have figured it out.”
Those teams want a partner who can help them scale, like Place, she added. The company’s business model also allows team leaders and CEO to maintain complete ownership of their business.
“We’re a platform where they keep their business,” Williams said. “They don’t give up that reign. They’re still CEOs of their own shops — it’s just an expansion of their world.”
As the economy continues to fluctuate, Stuart and Williams also offered their predictions on where they think real estate tech may be in the next several months to a year from now.
“Companies will go out of business, mergers and acquisitions will dominate,” Stuart said. “Over a longer horizon, the people who are creating platforms and are putting real estate professionals at the center of the experience … that’s where I believe where the bulk of the investment is headed.”
“I think tech will follow what the trends are in the industry, so anything tech that really helps scale and integrate is going to be really important,” Williams added. “Tech that’s tracker-oriented, lead oriented, is important.”
At the end of the day, all three speakers agreed that real estate technology needs to become part of a seamless ecosystem of an individual agent’s, a team’s, or a brokerage’s business, in order to serve its purpose in a sustainable way.
“I think our tech needs to serve us, we shouldn’t serve our tech,” Williams said.
“You have to ask yourself how it’s powering the mission and how it will help you achieve your goals.”