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A generation ago, few could have imagined how much technology would change real estate.
Agents might have spent much of their marketing budgets on newspaper ads. A big part of their job was simply making clients aware of which homes were available. Door-knocking was a rite of passage.
Fast forward to today and most buyers are comfortable finding listings via a major portal. Many agents work almost entirely from their phones. And just this year artificial intelligence has exploded into the public consciousness, promising to radically transform work.
In that light, Intel recently debuted its first-ever technology survey to get a read on how industry members feel about tech. Nearly 300 people responded to the survey, and an interesting picture emerged from the responses.
Though recent years have seen a growing interest in an all-in-one or end-to-end technology platform that handles all of agents’ needs, most respondents indicated that they aren’t using anything close to that. In fact, the survey results suggest that many agents and brokers are cobbling together solutions from a variety of sources, and that individuals have a large degree of autonomy over what tech they actually use.
What this means is that even three years after Inman described an end-to-end platform as real estate’s “holy grail,” the actual quest for that solution remains unresolved.
A piecemeal approach to technology
One of the first questions in the survey asked respondents where they get their technology. The question was in part a nod to big-name firms, such as Compass and Keller Williams, which in recent years have made a big deal of their willingness to build proprietary tech.
However, only 7.6 percent of respondents indicated they have developed or would consider developing their own tech. On the other hand, 45.5 percent of respondents said they buy off-the-shelf products. And just as curiously, 47 percent indicated they actually use some combination of the two options.
The responses were an early indication from the survey that industry members prefer piecing together individualized technology solutions, and the responses to later questions only further reinforced that thesis.
For example, another question asked respondents who work at companies affiliated with major brands if they use that brand’s entire tech stack. But only 12.5 percent of the people who responded to the survey said that they do.
Meanwhile, 42.3 percent of respondents who were affiliated with a major brand indicated that they use “some” of their firm’s tech. (Another 36 percent of respondents worked at companies that aren’t affiliated with a major brand.)
The good news for companies offering comprehensive tech stacks is that only about 8 percent of respondents are completely ignoring those options.
In a similar vein, another question found that many companies give agents options. The question specifically asked leaders if they provide a customer relationship manager (CRM) or if they ask agents to purchase such tools on their own. A plurality of respondents, or about 46 percent, provide a CRM to their agents. Only 19 percent ask agents to purchase such technology.
However, about 35 percent of respondents indicated that they give agents “both” options — indicating once again that it’s common for industry members to pick and choose which pieces of their companies’ technology they want to use.
On the other hand, when asked about company-provided CRM adoption rates, a plurality of respondents, or 33 percent, said adoption is “good.” Another 26 percent described adoption as “okay” and 18 percent described it as “excellent.”
Only about 11 percent of respondents described company-provided CRM adoption as “poor.”
Finally, the survey explicitly asked respondents if they have an end-to-end platform or if they instead have a tech stack of individual products. Nearly half of the survey’s respondents indicated that they opt for the tech stack.
Fewer than a third, or about 32 percent, said they have an end-to-end platform.
Overall, the survey’s findings suggest that despite a massive amount of attention and years of development, end-to-end platforms remain somewhat rare. Moreover, even in environments where companies are providing comprehensive (to varying degrees) tech, the people in the trenches are still picking and choosing what they want to use.
This is likely good news for many agents who clearly have a high degree of self-determination when it comes to finding tech solutions. In other words, many agents may not actually want or need the kind of all-in-one platform that has long been the stated goal of many prominent figures in the industry.
But these findings may be less reassuring to some industry leaders who are deeply invested in building their own platforms. Depending on where agents work, those solutions may already exist, but either way, agents are still doing whatever they please.
Spending on technology is limited
The survey also asked respondents about their spending on tech and found that an overwhelming majority, or about 75 percent, consider technology an “investment” rather than an “expense.”
However, additional questions found that per-agent spending on technology is somewhat limited. For instance, asked how much leaders are spending on productivity solutions, a plurality, or about 40 percent, indicated it’s less than $500. Nearly 30 percent of respondents indicated that they’re spending between $500 and $1,000.
The survey elicited almost identical results when it asked about per-agent spending on CRMs, with about 45 percent of respondents indicating that they spend less than $500. Another 26 percent of respondents spend between $500 and $1,000 per agent on their CRM.
Such findings may indicate that industry professionals have a variety of options and that they are able to find affordable solutions. A crowded and competitive real estate technology landscape should lead to options that don’t break the bank.
On the other hand, these findings suggest that tech spending hasn’t spiraled ever upward. Industry leaders are throwing money at technology, but so far at least the amount of money is limited.
However and interestingly in light of these findings, the survey also asked about leaders’ biggest concerns when purchasing technology. A majority of respondents, or 53 percent, said that their biggest concern is “supporting agents.” The second most popular response, at about 30 percent, was providing agents with a “competitive advantage.”
Alternatively, the “price” of technology was only the most important consideration for about 6.8 percent of respondents.
Somewhat curiously, the least popular response to the question was “recruiting draw.”
That’s a surprising result given that some companies such as Compass have made their technology a major part of their pitch to agents. Indeed, just this week multiple agents told Inman that they returned to Compass, after previously leaving, because of the tech. Compass also told Inman that it polls so-called boomerang agents and has found technology to be the number one selling point for them.
The survey results, however, suggest that firms such as Compass may be outliers in the industry; though Compass has clearly made tech part of its recruiting pitch, few other leaders seem to be making the same calculus.
Is tech not as big a deal as we thought?
Inman began this story by briefly highlighting the transformative power of technology on real estate. Things really are different today compared to 20 or 30 years ago.
But it’s also clear that some of the more high-flying takes on real estate tech haven’t come to pass. The survey results (which of course are not scientific and come from a self-selecting group of Inman readers) suggest end-to-end platforms aren’t widespread. Few are using tech as a recruiting tool. Most people aren’t even using all of the technology that’s available to them.
Real estate might look very different in 2023 compared to 1993, but it may not have changed quite so drastically since, say, 2013. Observers have often described real estate as a slow-to-change industry, and the results of this survey suggest that’s true for at least some people.
Whether that’s good or bad depends on where you stand. Agents and brokerages have likely preserved the ability to create piecemeal solutions to give them access to more options. Put another way, real estate tech exists in a Darwinian environment and it’s still unclear where evolution will lead.
However, the survey does reveal that many industry members are at least interested in the future of real estate technology. In a free-response question, Inman asked respondents what technology they are most excited about going forward.
The question elicited an array of answers, but one of the most common was also the most cutting-edge: Artificial intelligence. Indeed, responses mentioned interest in the integration of AI with existing tools, how platforms such as ChatGPT might change real estate labor, and one person even said that AI “scares me to death.”
What’s clear, then, is that the real estate industry is looking to the future.
“It will,” one person wrote of AI, “eventually change our entire industry for the better.”