“Disruption” is a buzzword that has stirred considerable angst in the real estate community. As elements of the transaction become digitized, automated, or handed over to robots, it’s easy to worry about your role.
But consider the opportunities disruption provides to enhance your customer service. While technology supplants some laborious human tasks like scheduling showings, organizing paperwork, or submitting a bid on a property, it also frees up time and head space for growing your business. It expands possibilities for connecting with prospects you might never have found otherwise—and it may even lower the potential for transaction fraud when the digitized ledger system known as blockchain becomes established. Automation, in fact, strengthens the demand for human connection in the transaction. Your customers may appreciate the convenience of certain apps and websites, but they also depend on the support and knowledge you offer.
To get a disruptor’s perspective, we talked with several participants in the REach® technology accelerator, a program that connects tech startups with the industry. REach® is operated by National Association of REALTORS® subsidiary Second Century Ventures, a venture capital fund focused on promoting innovation in real estate.
“Disruption is, essentially, forced change,” says Sebastian Tonkin, CEO of transaction management company Glide, a 2018 REach® participant. “The source of disruption is a gap between consumer expectations and what the industry is delivering. You can [look at disruption and] say, ‘I only know how to do things the old way,’ or you can say, ‘Wow, most of the industry doesn’t understand this, and I can jump on it and get ahead of the curve.’ ”
Shifts Aren’t New, They’re Inevitable
Throughout the 110 years of NAR’s existence, the industry has confronted change, yet the inherent value of real estate pros has remained intact, says Mel Myers, CEO of photo editing company BoxBrownie, another member of the 2018 REach® class. In fact, real estate photography is a great example of a technology that has been in constant transition as technology makes it easier to shoot, edit, store, and publish photos. “A photographer used to shoot photos on film, deliver them to real estate offices, and then the broker would have to sort through them,” Myers says. “Now the process is digitally mainstreamed.”
You Cannot Be Replaced
Most innovations require your input to be effective, points out Lane Hornung, co-founder and CEO of Zavvie, a content marketing company focused on connecting real estate with consumers at the hyperlocal level and another 2018 REach® participant. “This so-called ‘disruption’ has actually been great for practitioners,” he says. “It has enabled those who have adopted new technologies to achieve previously unheard-of levels of productivity and service.”
Regardless of how new technologies change your work, remember that your intangible assets—your personality, intellect, and ability to bond with clients—cannot be replaced. These traits position you to be the person your customers need. “People overlook the fact that they are uniquely placed on Earth to do what they do,” says Conor McCluskey, CEO of video marketing firm BombBomb, part of the founding REach class of 2013. “You can learn technology—use something 10 times, and it becomes second nature—but nothing and nobody can learn to be you.”
Within Your Reach
Since its launch in 2013, NAR’s REach® accelerator program has partnered with four dozen tech companies to offer guidance on how best to serve the changing industry. Here’s a sampling of the ways their innovative tools can help you provide a better experience for buyers and sellers and support your critical role in successful transactions.
The video platform enables users to record and embed video directly into email, social media channels, or any other communication vehicle. While written messages often lose a sense of emotion, adding video to your digital marketing, e-newsletters, and client follow-ups can convey “that empathy that people need,” CEO Conor McCluskey says. “The people aspect, the relationships you build, the humanity you bring to the transaction—that’s what BombBomb leverages.” McCluskey calls BombBomb an “antidisruption tool.” Its goal is to expand opportunities for agents to get in front of their clients—to enhance a crucial element of customer service, not replace it, he adds.
Many agents delegate tasks to virtual assistants. In that vein, BoxBrownie acts like a remote support team for photo editing. Pros can submit their listing photos—whether taken by themselves or professional photographers—and request whatever edits they seek, such as turning a gray sky blue. BoxBrownie, staffed with professional graphic designers, returns the photos in ready-to-publish condition. “My attitude is that Photoshop has been around forever, but a lot of people don’t know how to use it well,” CEO Mel Myers says. “We do it really well and make it accessible for agents.” The company, he says, is not aiming to replace professional photographers. “Are we disruptive? Yes and no. We’ve created a better way of doing something, but we don’t replace the keen eye of a photographer.
Another route to a paperless business, Glide offers a “TurboTax-style interface that guides the client through the most important documents and intervals in the transaction,” says CEO Sebastian Tonkin. You enter information only once, and the software provides a single login to manage an entire transaction. “I came to real estate as a client, and I realized that the home-search process had improved, but the transaction process hadn’t kept pace,” he adds. “While most buyers and sellers are willing to tolerate a complex transaction, it simply reflects poorly on the industry. They hire an agent for their expertise, not to shuffle paperwork for them.” The tool can also free up an agent’s support staff so they can focus more on higher-value tasks that generate income or improve the customer-service experience.
Hyperlocal marketing is an important part of making yourself a neighborhood expert. But, for those who don’t have time to curate or create content aimed at clients and prospects, Zavvie provides a team of creators and social media marketers to develop content for you. The company’s goal is to create marketing pieces on a neighborhood level that generate leads and listings and help transactions close faster, CEO Lane Hornung says. Zavvie “takes geographic farming into the digital age, supercharging and scaling something real estate professionals have been doing successfully for years, namely being a neighborhood expert and building a business around that expertise.”