Technology is the new real estate

I recently wrote about companies that are going through identity crises. Are they real estate companies or are they technology companies? Regardless, the big name real estate disruptors have changed the industry. They have given home buyers control of their home search. They have also given home sellers choices of real estate services and commissions. But the recent trend of real estate companies touting themselves as technology companies may be a signal that large real estate brokerages want more change. But are they mistaking the map for the territory?

Are real estate brokers still interested in selling homes?

technology and real estate
Technology (infographic from nar.realtor)

Last November, the real estate brokerage Compass made headlines because of its ability to raise massive capital investments. In a Compass press release, the company announced raising $100 million in capital (Compass Raises $100 Million in New Investment Round; prnewswire.com; November 8, 2017). The colossal investment comes one year after raising $75 million in capital. The capital is to be used for expanding brokerage offices in new markets as well as “building new technology.”

Compass’ vision is to be “the world’s largest real estate platform.” The press release quoted an investor saying:

“Compass has proven that its technologically advanced platform is incredibly attractive to the industry’s top agents…Their position at the intersection of technology and real estate gives them the unique opportunity to be the single largest holder of real estate data, ushering in a new realm of possibilities for agents and clients alike.”

In a similar move, RE/MAX announced this week of its purchase of booj, a technology company. In a February 26th RE/MAX press release, the acquisition is touted as means to “…deliver core technology solutions designed for and with RE/MAX affiliates. The objective: technology platforms that create a distinct competitive edge for RE/MAX brokerages and agents…” (RE/MAX Takes Bold Step to Provide Best-in-Class Technology; remax.com).

Is the shift to  being a technology company about revenue?

It would seem that recent industry moves may indicate that real estate brokers would prefer to be technology companies. However, the latest trend may be more about generating revenue, raising capital and investor relations than it is about selling homes.

Lizette Chapman’s report on the matter is revealing (Tech Startup or Real-Estate Broker? Fidelity Values Compass at $2 Billion; bloomberg.com; November 8, 2017). Chapman likens Compass to Redfin saying that the company “is almost certainly unprofitable,” although generating massive revenue. In her reporting, Chapman quoted a seasoned real estate agent who was briefly with Compass, “The technology was mostly marketing tools…It was sleek, but I can’t say it was different from anything else out there.”

Although many home buyers and sellers turn to the internet for housing information, they don’t wholly rely on technology when choosing real estate services. According to the National Association of Realtors 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor), a majority of home buyers and sellers hired agents with whom they worked in the past, or were referred by friends and family.

The problem with technology is that humans are the ghosts in the machine. The human element, contrary to technology, is erratic, messy, and highly subjective. The human element remains at the core of home buying and selling.

Many consumers recognize that tech and the internet are tools that are often used as gimmicks to get their business. Technology is not a substitute for an experienced real estate professional who can also empathize along the home buying/selling process. The turn to tech only underscores that residential real estate is still a personal business.

Choosing a real estate agent

Choosing a real estate agent is much like searching for a home.  It is an objective and subjective process.

The real estate agent is supposed to be a fiduciary that is supposed to protect your rights and assets.   A real estate agent is supposed to be honest and act with integrity.  They should act in your best interest.

The quality of an agent is not dependent on the firm. Quality agents are affiliated with almost all brokers. If you haven’t already, ask friends and family for their recommendations.

Prepare questions to interview several agents.  The purpose of the interview is to learn about the agent’s professionalism, training, and knowledge base.  You get to hear about their experience, and get a feel how they interact with you.  Besides asking about their experiences, ask how many years they have been selling homes, and if they full time agents.

If you live in an area where agents are licensed in multiple jurisdictions, ask about their experience in the area you plan to buy/sell. Just because they have a license to sell homes doesn’t mean they have extensive experience in that jurisdiction.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Consumers are devolving real estate

Consumers choose their agents
Consumers directing real estate industry (infographic from househuntnetwork.com)

The National Association of Realtors annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor) reveals insight into consumer real estate trends.  It provides an understanding into home buyers’ and sellers’ experiences and what they want.  One aspect of focus from the Profile is how consumers choose their real estate agent.  The survey consistently indicates that a referral from a friend, neighbor or relative plays a big part in their choice.  But how do buyers and sellers view real estate brands?

There are reams of research about the relationship between brands and consumers.  However, recent data regarding millennials suggest that brand loyalty may be changing.  Jeff Fromm’s article for Forbes (Why Label Transparency Matters When It Comes To Millennial Brand Loyalty; forbes.com; December 13, 2017) points out what consumers are looking for and what they deem important.  Fromm states

If the brand doesn’t provide the information they need, millennials will look elsewhere… when millennials make purchase decisions, they’re considering more than the traditional drivers of taste, price and convenience.  They value authenticity, and make decisions based on the way they perceive brands to impact their quality of life, society as a whole, and how that brand may be contributing positively to the world.”

Real estate brokers and agents should pay close attention to the new consumer research.

This evolution of brand loyalty and how consumers perceive brands may explain the growth of independent brokers.  A 2015 Special Report by Inman Select (inman.com) The Shift Toward Independent Brokerages indicates that the number of real estate agents affiliating with independent brokerages (not affiliated with corporate or franchise real estate companies) grew significantly over the last decade.  The percentage of agents affiliating with independent brokers jumped from about 45 percent in 2006 to about 55 percent in 2015.  About 80 percent of real estate brokerages are independent.  And the trend is expected to continue.

According to the Special Report, the major advantage cited for affiliating with a brand name brokerage is brand awareness.  However, there may be a limit to the influence of a real estate brand.  Unlike retail brands, real estate brands do not have total control over the consistency and quality of the services provided.  That is left to the individual agent.  Independents, on the other hand, cite the ability to quickly adjust to consumers’ needs and being focused on the local real estate market as an advantage.

Yes, the real estate industry appears to be devolving.  Another example of the devolution is a decreasing reliance on the MLS for home listings.  It’s not to say that home sellers are not listing their homes with agents, because an increasing number of sellers are looking to agents for their expertise.  However, brokers and agents are maintaining control over their inventories through alternative means of selling homes, such as pocket listings.  An increasing number of brokers are also restricting their listings from internet syndication to increase the quality of information provided to consumers.  Although it may sound counter-intuitive to not widely broadcast a home for sale on the MLS or internet, however, a lack of transparency remains a problem for some real estate aggregator portals.

Are real estate brokers and agents listening?  The business of real estate is changing and devolving.  Control over the industry has slowly been transferred to real estate consumers.  Real estate consumers are savvy and intelligent.  They know if a broker/agent is really focused on revenue streams, gimmicks and salesy techniques.  Real estate consumers want agents and brokers who are authentic, transparent, and provide a quality service.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Industry disruptors changing real estate

Reat estate industry disruptors
Reat estate industry disruptors (infographic from nar.realtor)

Buying and selling homes hasn’t really changed much over the years.  It still requires a buyer and a seller.  Getting them together often requires a real estate agent or broker.  Sure, technology has changed the brokerage relationship dramatically.  It has also forced players in the real estate industry to change or get out of the business.  A new trend of real estate brokers are embracing technology like never before.  Will these real estate industry disruptors change how real estate services will be provided in the future?  Will these industry disruptors drive a new enthusiasm for “real estate technology brokers“?

One the largest players in the real estate industry is Zillow.  Although Zillow has a number of services that can bring home buyers and sellers together, they are mostly a technology company that serves to provide consumers information.  The company generates revenue by selling services to real estate brokers and agents, as well as mortgage companies and loan officers.  Many consumers visit Zillow’s websites to view information about homes for sale or rent that are listed with brokers or the homes’ owners.  Consumers don’t pay Zillow a fee or commission for the service.

Over the years, many have talked about how Zillow’s technological influence will predict the real estate industry’s future.  Those real estate prophets foretold a time when home buyers and sellers will be able to do business on the internet without a real estate agent or broker.  But in reality, Zillow’s influence only cemented the necessity of a broker or agent to facilitate the transaction.  Zillow’s success has generated millions of dollars in revenue, but the company has struggled to post an annual net profit.

Redfin is another real estate company that has a significant internet presence.  Some think of Redfin as a technology firm offering real estate services.  But the reality is that it is a real estate brokerage built around technology.  Redfin has built its brand, and went public this year.  Although the company generates millions in revenue, the Seattle Times reported that Redfin’s IPO offering indicated that the company has yet to post an annual net profit and has accumulated losses of $613.3 million (Seattle real estate company Redfin files to go public; seattletimes.com; June 30, 2017).

Companies like Zillow and Redfin are not the only players in real estate know for technology, but they may be the most well-known.  These companies are part of a new generation of companies that strive for a huge internet footprint to drive business.  But Zillow and Redfin demonstrate that technology in and of itself is not a guarantee of profitability, nor has it been an absolute “game changer” for the real estate industry.  Instead, technology has been the catalyst for change.

Industry disruptors and real estate

Consumers probably don’t realize the subtleties, but the rapid changes in real estate technology has forced real estate agents and brokers to change how they engage their clients.  Since companies like Zillow and other real estate aggregator sites have propagated the internet, the role of the real estate agent and broker has shifted away from being the source of information to being the source of a meaningful analysis.  Agents and brokers have also shifted their roles from information keepers to transaction managers.

What better way to be a real estate change agent and industry disruptor than to build a business around technology.   Redfin is probably the most poised to make major impact to how consumers are served in the real estate industry.  With all of its tech goodness, Redfin’s contribution to the industry hasn’t been as much technological than financial.  The brand will likely be known for being instrumental in reducing real estate commissions.  In markets where Redfin has been successful in establishing its brand, agents have been under significant pressure to lower listing commissions and/or offer buyer rebates.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Listing agent secrets you need to know

Listing agent Secrets

There are a number of topics that your listing agent probably won’t discuss with you, or can’t properly explain.  Here are several listing agent secrets that you need to know:

Your agent won’t sell your home

home for saleYour home will likely sell to a home buyer who is represented by a buyer agent. This notion is supported the 2016 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor), which reported that 88 percent of home buyers used an agent to buy a home.  The remaining 12 percent of home buyers purchased through other means, including with the help of the listing agent, or even a FSBO.  Although your listing agent may claim to have sold the most homes in the neighborhood, the truth may actually be that they are only facilitators.  The buyer agent who actually “sells” the home is labelled the “selling agent” by the industry.

Buyers are not finding homes in print

listing agent secrets
Agent secrets (infographic from nar.realtor)

Print advertising no longer is the means of selling a home. More information from the 2016 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers indicate that having a nice spread in a magazine, or posting open houses in the local paper is probably a sales ploy to get your listing.  The Profile reported that home buyers reported how they found their home as follows (nar.realtor):

  • Internet: 51%
  • Real estate agent: 34%
  • Yard sign/open house sign: 8%
  • Friend, relative or neighbor: 4%
  • Home builder or their agent: 2%
  • Directly from sellers/Knew the sellers: 1%
  • Print newspaper advertisement: 1%

Bigger is not better

Another one of your listing agent secrets is that the larger your agent’s brokerage or team, and having a high number of homes actively listed may actually be detrimental to your home sale!  An empirical study by Shiawee X. Yang and Abdullah Yavaş (Bigger is Not Better: Brokerage and Time on the Market; The Journal of Real Estate Research; 1995, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 23-33) reported the following results:

  1. The amount of agent’s commission is not indicative of your home’s time on market;
  2. The size of the listing firm does not affect your home’s time on market;
  3. Homes listed and sold by the same firm (i.e., dual agency) does not reduce time on market;
  4. The more active listings your agent has, the longer your home may sit on the market because they do not devote to the time to your sale.

Yang and Yavaş suggest that the larger the listing firm, the more incentive to “cheat” days on market by circulating new listings within the firm before entering it in the MLS, which also increases the chances of a dual agency situation.  “Private placement,” or pocket listings can have similar dual agency results.

Dual agency could cost you

Chances are that your listing agent doesn’t totally understand dual agency, and therefor may not be able to explain how it affects your sale and potentially your sale price.  The Maryland Real Estate Commission’s “Understanding Whom Real Estate Agents Represent” disclosure states:

The possibility of dual agency arises when the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent both work for the same real estate company…The real estate broker or the broker’s designee, is called the “dual agent.” Dual agents do not act exclusively in the interests of either the seller or buyer, and therefore cannot give undivided loyalty to either party. There may be a conflict of interest because the interests of the seller and buyer may be different or adverse.

One of the listing agent secrets is that dual agency may not be beneficial to you, and can even lower your home sale price.  There are a number of empirical studies that indicate conflicts of interest and other issues that arise out of dual agency.  But a study by Joachim Zietz and Bobby Newsome (Agency Representation and the Sale Price of Houses; Journal of Real Estate Research; 2002, Vol 24, No 2 pp. 165-91) found that a home’s sale price drops about 3.7 percent when the listing and buyer agents are from the same firm.  They stated:

the fact that buyers may obtain a lower price by engaging a buyer’s agent from the same firm as the listing agent raises the issue of whether or not the listing firm is shortchanging the seller. The evidence appears to suggest that the agency relationship between seller and listing agent may be compromised.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Transforming real estate – whom do agents really represent?

transforming real estate
Real estate transformation over time (infographic from movoto.com)

The continuously transforming real estate industry continues to change because of two forces, consumers and real estate professionals.  It would seem intuitive that the forces should be complimentary, but a deeper analysis might suggest conflicting interests between consumers and real estate agents. Whom do agents really represent?

Efficiency, although not openly stated, is a main goal of both home sellers and real estate agents.  Home sellers want to sell their homes efficiently (as quick as possible and for the most money); while the real estate agent may be focused on collecting the most commission in the least amount of time.  A.W. Jenkins’ ground breaking research looked into why consumers continued to use brokers in a transforming real estate environment as a means of buying and selling a home.  Jenkins determined that the only reason why consumers did not use a more efficient “used house dealer” is because they don’t exist (Home, Sweet Home: Real Estate Brokerage in Canada, Vancouver, Canada: The Fraser Institute, 1989).  Jenkins discussed the incentive for consumers to sign commission based broker agreements, even when there are more efficient means of buying and selling a home; including a used house dealer, sell the house on their own, or even pay a flat listing fee.

Anglin & Arnott furthered Jenkins’ line of questioning and came to the conclusion that although a used house dealership (like the used car dealership) may be the most efficient means of buying and selling a home for the consumer, it is not an efficient business model for residential real estate professionals (Residential real estate brokerage as a principal-agent problem; The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics; 1991, vol 4, no 2, pp 99–125).  The cost of maintaining a used house inventory for the dealer is prohibitive because home resale usually takes longer than reselling an automobile.  Another reason for non-existent used house dealers is government regulation: The sale of residential real estate by individuals other than the owner is highly regulated and sets standards for real estate brokerage.

Furthermore, they hypothesize that there may be broker “collusion” in maintaining existing business models:

…Collusion, we argued, is particularly easy to sustain and enforce in the residential real estate market because transactions require cooperation between the buying and selling broker…

As the transforming real estate industry continues its journey, the notion of efficiency has taken a substantial turn in favor of the real estate agent.  The advent of buyer agency and dual agency has allowed agents to leverage their name and reputation to other agents through a “team.”  Much like the medical office business model of luring patients through someone’s name and reputation, only to see the lower techs; the real estate team has become a popular business mode because an agent can leverage their time by having other agents do their work.  To further the confusion, in some cases there are teams within teams. But to understand the structure of the real estate team concept, think of a Russian nesting doll.  The team is a smaller nesting doll which is embedded in the larger nesting doll (the broker); and the team members are even smaller nesting dolls embedded within the team nesting doll.  To be fair, there are various team models in use today; some are better than others with respect to transparency.  The transforming real estate industry has moved towards real estate teams, which essentially operate as a brokerage within a brokerage.

Real estate team advertising and disclosure have become the focus of regulation in recent years, but has not entirely thwarted unscrupulous advertising that intends to mislead the consumer.  Furthermore, agents who are independent contractors and sub-contractors of brokers and other agents, can not only muddy the waters of agency, but can further distance the agent’s incentive and duty to their client.

In his article about the dual agency controversy (From subagency to non-agency: a history; inman.com; Feb 27, 2012), Matt Carter reminded us about a 1993 treatise by the former National Association of Realtors general counsel William North titled “Agency, Facilitation and the Realtor.”  The essay was written at a time when transforming real estate was about acknowledging buyer agency.  Agency relationships between Realtors and their clients were under scrutiny.  North was questioning whom agents really represent and if agents actually knew their role.  To make it easier for agents to know to whom they have a duty, North made an argument for eliminating the independent contractor status that prevails throughout the industry.  He stated:

An approach more difficult of acceptance by NAR membership would be the abandonment of the independent contractor status…The prevailing independent contractor relationship between broker and salesperson encourages “quantity” over “quality…It is clear from the letters which have been received by Realtor News on the Agency issue that far too many Realtors and Realtor Associations simply have no concept of what an agent is, does or cannot do or that their status as an “independent contractor” vis-à-vis their broker has nothing to do with their obligations, as an agent, to the seller or the buyer.  It only compounds the public confusion as to the status of a Realtor when Realtors themselves do not understand who and what they are.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.