Real estate technologies and adoption
True or not, real estate agents have a bad rap when it comes to embracing technology. Unless, of course, you count the invention of the Model-T as a recent innovation. You can count on us to traverse the town with you in the passenger seat of our car while we talk about neighborhoods, recent sales, and other bits of market knowledge you might not get anywhere else, but when it comes to using more recent technology, many in the industry are the last ones to do so. Two recent experiences I had with technology might help us all – agents, consumers, and developers – to understand this issue in a new light.
Agents only want to use technology that really, really, really works. It isn’t because we are stupid, lazy, or afraid of change. It’s because our business model supports reliability over innovation. Here’s why: Even for those of us that do a lot of business, the number of clients and contacts is usually in the dozens and hundreds, respectively. The average agent has exactly as many fingers and thumbs as they do sales per year, according to the NAR 2012 Member Profile which found the average number of transactions a Realtor did in 2011 was ten!
Here are two recent examples from my own personal experience that might help everyone explain why real estate agents are often reluctant technology adopters:
Example one: lockboxes
A few weeks ago I was previewing a home on lockbox for some out-of-area clients. We use Supra lockboxes in the bay area, and I recently returned my display key and cradle for the eKey app and bluetooth fob that are compatible with my iPhone. The advantage to the software/fob solution is that I no longer have to dock a separate electronic key, which means I have one less device to forget at home, and one less device to keep plugged in for overnight updates. Seems like a smart move, right? Wrong!
When I attempted to use my phone/fob combo to open the Suprabox, I recieved a software error message. As a result of the error, the software refused to recognize my account as being in good standing, and refused to open the keybox for me. I Googled the software error message and discovered it could be fixed by logging into the vendor’s website and entering a long randomly generated code I could get from a phone call. But when I logged into the vendor’s website from my phone, it only displayed a mobile version of the site that didn’t have access to the update area where I could fix my problem.
Fortunately for me, my laptop was in my trunk, I have a wifi hotspot, and my clients weren’t with me on this occasion. But if my clients had been with me, I would have been mortified and they would have (rightly) held me responsible for failing to show them the house I had promised I would show them. Lockboxes are amongst the oldest tools in the business, and there is no excuse for buggy software that prevents them from functioning all the time!
Example two: AgentFolio by Zillow
Another example involves AgentFolio, a product from Zillow. I’ve been looking for months for a good tool for collaborating with my buyer clients on their home search. The collaboration and sharing portal built-in to our MLS provider (Rapattoni) is bare-bones embarrassing, and clients that have used it said it reminded them of using a website from the 1990s. And don’t even get me started talking about the bugs that randomly place listings in the wrong client folders on an almost daily basis.
Someone that I have a great deal of respect for suggested AgentFolio as being the best out there, so I signed up for an account to give it a test drive. When I try new technology tools, I need to understand the tool from my client’s perspective, so the first account I always create is a test account with myself as a client. If you are an agent and you’re reading this, that’s the one thing I hope you take away from my article: always be testing. If you can’t use, understand, and explain the tools you are offering to your clients from a client perspective, you shouldn’t be using them. I hope this example helps you understand why…
When I logged into Agentfolio as a client, the exact properties from my “agent created” search showed up in my folio. But the open house times were all off by about five hours. Let me be clear: The agent view showed the correct open house times, but the client view showed open house times that were so far off that if the client showed up during the times listed on the AgentFolio client view, they would have missed the entire open house by hours! Because the open house times showed up correctly in the agent view, I wouldn’t have even known my clients were getting bad information if I hadn’t used a test account. And my clients wouldn’t blame Zillow for writing bad software – they’d hold me responsible for giving them a tool that sent them to open houses at the wrong times.
But there’s more to the problem
What exacerbates both of these problems is the support offered by the respective companies. Agents work evenings and weekends, but support from almost all technology companies is only offered Monday through Friday usually just during business hours. I didn’t receive a response from Zillow until almost 48 hours after I had submitted the help request, but to their credit, they have said a fix will be rolled out this week.
If you’re an agent: always be testing. Forget what you saw in Glengarry Glen Ross – you aren’t going to close anything if you haven’t first tested the tools that you are relying on.
If you’re a technology company: Recognize that reliability is the most important feature you can offer a real estate agent. And back that reliability up with support hours that are available when we need you most – evenings and weekends.
What are your thoughts about bridging the gap between agents, consumers, and technology companies?