An Interesting Article from RISMedia

What Agents Are Forgetting
Four real estate executives offer their takes on where agents need to be going now

RISMEDIA, March 15, 2007-While the real estate industry continues to ponder commonly known trends-such as the normalization of the market or the majority of consumers online and how to get their business-we wonder, are we forgetting something or someone? According to four industry pros, we are: the real estate agent.

What facet of the real estate industry most needs our attention now?

Agent Adoption of Technology is Critical to Broker’s Success

Brian Wildermuth
President and Co-founder

It is no secret that leading brokerages seek out value-added technology to aid their agents in their quest to get new customers, serve those customers and manage their business. Agent adoption of these technologies and systems is critical to surviving and thriving in today’s challenging market, yet most brokerages are struggling to get their agents to engage with any level of success.

Yes, there are examples all around us of agents who have succeeded and continue to succeed without the use of a computer, Web site or e-mail address. However, that number is dwindling into the abyss. Today’s information-savvy consumers demand a more knowledgeable, connected and responsive agent.

Can you imagine Bart Starr-one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game of football-surviving in today’s NFL without a strong understanding and adoption of the technologies afforded to today’s quarterbacks? Today’s offensive and defensive schemes are far more complicated than those of old and require ongoing communication, charting, review, etc. that was never afforded in Bart’s era.

Communication goes directly to the quarterback via their helmet, digital photos and videos studied on the sideline, and coaches and players are connected via a network. This allows players like Tom Brady and Payton Manning to be more effective in their roles and dominate their competition. If one wants to be a professional athlete today, they must adopt the technologies surrounding their role.

Similarly, real estate agents need to accept and embrace the advancements within their chosen industry if they want to dominate their competition. I believe strongly that the broker’s role should continue to be one that helps agents seek out the right tools. I also believe it is the broker’s role to facilitate the awareness and education process for agents to learn how to apply these tools to their businesses.

However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the agent to tune into today’s revolutionary technologies and systems, take ownership for learning how to use them, and implement them into their own way of doing business. Agents who don’t grasp this concept will likely be replaced by those who not only grasp it, but take it to a higher level.

De-value of the Agent?

Michael Schindler
President & CEO

The most important “facet” to the real estate industry is the agent and how to keep the agent relevant in today’s high-tech marketplace. Survival. With more and more technology companies providing services that agents once had a stronghold on, the industry needs to look at how best to educate their agents on how to compete with and embrace technology all at the same time in order to better serve their clients. If the industry fails to do this, the consumer base will not only haggle over agent commissions, but eventually determine the agent has no value.

Pretty strong opinion, I know. But it got your attention. Bottom line: agents have a tremendous opportunity to prove that they bring a wealth of experience to the home buying and selling process, something few technology-based companies bring. And they bring the personal touch.

In my opinion, people want to deal with people, and actually, the studies show the same. People may start their searches on the Web, but 80%, give or take, still employ an agent to guide them through the process. The breakdown happens when agents don’t utilize technology to streamline the process. Multiple trips back to the office to get information just aren’t acceptable any more. An agent without a laptop is asking for trouble. And be sure to follow-up.

Technology-based companies are excellent at follow-up (well, some of us are). We understand that there is a land-grab going on for loyal subscribers and clients. We send reminders, return e-mails and phone calls quickly and look for ways to out-serve our clients. But we do little eyeball to eyeball, handshake to handshake; this is truly where the agent has the advantage.

So how do you stay relevant? Combine the high-tech with the high-touch. Embrace the technologies that streamline your business; get the laptop and stop saying you don’t need it; embrace technology so your client knows you are progressive and then bring your wealth of experience into their home. Do this and you will have lifelong clients.

A Need for Better Integration and Communication

Sharon E. Michnay, CRP, GMS
Director of Corporate Business Development
Halstead Property, LLC

In the past 10 years, we have seen more innovation in regard to the way real estate firms conduct business than in more than 30 years before that. Searches now begin from the comfort of a home computer, involve rich media, such as photos and floor plans, and can lead customers to properties in the remote corners of the globe.

Throughout this process and through one of the nation’s biggest housing booms, real estate companies approached growth much as a growing family with plenty of land and not enough bedrooms; they added extensions and wings to their existing structures. IT departments were given the OK to hire Webmasters and bid on the cherished Google keywords. Photographers, professional draftsmen and stagers were contracted to fill the online space with attractive visual representations of properties. Media outlets started adding online components to their print contracts and listings became available on five, to 10, to 20 additional sites, not to mention the MLS and other listing aggregators.

All of this piecemeal growth left some holes in the greater strategy and message, though. Sales agents and consumers were confused as new technologies became prevalent and marketing strategies became more fragmented. New performance metrics like traffic rankings, unique users and pageviews appeared. Online advertising was handled by the technology group who was responsible for implementing it, which often created a schism in the corporate brand (ever found yourself asking “Why is our corporate color different online than on our stationary?). And, of course, the ever-familiar inter-firm competition, which answered pictures with virtual tours and virtual tours with video tours, then floor plans, then 3D floor plans and room-planning tools. The challenge to engage the consumer has escalated into a mantra of “In toys we trust.”

Our challenge now and going forward is better integration. Greater coordination between marketing, IT and communication departments is integral to standardize messaging across all venues. Most importantly though, we must truly get a handle on all of our industry’s data assets. For too long, we have focused on collecting and aggregating listing data as if it was the sum total of the value we offer, and this has led to a greater skepticism toward the commissions we charge.

We are an industry of service providers, trained professionals and expert negotiators. Our firms have years of market data for our respective areas of coverage and experiential knowledge on how to navigate through times of adjustment.

We also have technology that is largely untapped and the consumer information it has collected that is largely unused. Until we fully realize how this data can be quantified and catalogued, we will not be able to take the next real evolution toward providing the life and lifestyle services our customers are going to expect.

New Agent Survival in a Changing Market

Robert Munson
Advance Realty Inc.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 86% of new real estate licensees exit the business within a year. Agent loss is due to many factors including softening real estate markets. These market swings are typical in a changing industry. Many agents experienced a false sense of security as a result of the boom market in past years. The current economic climate challenges new agents who haven’t experienced what is considered to be a “normal” market, let alone a market that is considered to be a slowdown.

In order for new agents to survive, they must be properly capitalized and have a budget sufficient to maintain their business and marketing expenses. They must develop a business plan that sets goals, gives the agent direction, and helps them maintain discipline. Part of an agent’s business plan needs to include developing their referral business, building their sphere of influence, locating motivated buyers and sellers and overall, developing lead generation and follow-up systems.

New agents also need to be creative in their marketing efforts. Typical advertising and marketing strategies will never set you apart in the mind of your client. Agents need to ask themselves:

“What will make my listing stand out from the crowd?”
“How can I get the most exposure for the least expense?”
“Where are my competitors and where aren’t they?”

One of the many challenges for new agents is simply getting their foot in the door with prospects and winning listings away from their seasoned competitors. Agents need to consider brokerages like Advance Realty, which give even the freshest talent a competitive edge, help them differentiate themselves and allow for opportunities to build new relationships with clients.

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