This past Wednesday I had the privilege of being one of the industry panelists at a unique real estate conference at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey called Hear it Direct. The format had group discussions with six home buyers, six home sellers, and six Generation Y buyers & sellers to discuss their experience and insights in the marketplace dealing with agents. Tough questions were asked, and in many cases tough answers were given which, for many in our industry, were uncomfortable to hear. It was an unfiltered view of the consumer experience from their own mouths, the good, the bad, and the ugly. After each consumer panel the moderator would then discuss the session with a panel of industry professionals, and I was on the panel discussing the home sellers.
What got me interested in participating was a video I saw a few weeks ago from the west coast event, where the Gen-Y panel was downright harsh in their assessment of how their agents handled their cases. Just watching it made me cringe. We’ve all heard the stories, and in many cases, we have been on the other side of transactions where we had to deal with “that agent.”
Since the advent of the Internet in real estate, there has always been a sentiment among many that brokers would go the way of travel agents because of the consumer access to data. That has not been the case because you don’t buy a house the same way you book a flight or buy a book online. However, the industry is changing, and professionals have been inundated with new shiny objects as well as tens of millions of consumers who have come of age since the downturn for whom technology is an afterthought. To them, having an email address or website doesn’t make an agent special or forward thinking.
Agents have responded by often becoming even more automated and technologically sophisticated. Technology on the wobbly shoulders of 90’s “look at me” image marketing (on the wobbly shoulder of decades of being the gatekeepers of information, which we aren’t) has created a disconnect with the consumer, even among the most well meaning licensees. We literally have to unlearn much of the way we were taught to transact business in order to reconnect with our clientele in a meaningful way.
That isn’t easy because there is no blueprint.
We can’t Google a simple solution the the challenges facing the industry.
So I expected a rough atmosphere at our event. It had its moments, but the takeaways, insights, AHA moments and reaffirmations of things I knew were incalculably valuable. The discussion of what consumers want from their agent in today’s world, what they hate in their agent, what they’ll do differently next time, and dozens of other things will impact how I model the architecture of my company going forward. I will write about my insights in future posts, because one article tonight will not do it justice. Suffice to say, what will make brokers survive and thrive in the 21st century will not be shiny objects or techy webby gizmos. It will be the same qualities that have have been archetypes of great organizations and societies since we started writing stuff down. How utterly simple, yet utterly counter intuitive.
Yeah. That stuff.
As I told the Hear it Direct co-founder, my friend Sue Adler, this experience will make me a better broker. The cynic will say we should already know this. Well, duh. We know it. It isn’t about understanding the idea. It is about implementing it the way we need to in order to get the right outcome. You can’t take it for granted. And you don’t know what you look like from the outside. We strive to do this stuff every day. Now we have game films. The good news, from the mouths of consumers themselves, is that when we deliver on what they truly need, we are worth every penny we are paid.
I am ALWAYS interested in being a better broker and building a superior, cutting edge brokerage. This may be a small distinction, but it is powerful: up until this week, I always built my firm to be a tech-forward firm that cares. Going forward, we will be the caring firm that is tech forward. It is a subtle shift, but powerful. Identify the real need, not what we think they need, then deliver. Simple. When was the last time our industry empirically identified the need?
Since I have recorded my commentary in this blog, I have had exactly two experiences that I expressed certainty would elevate my game. I now have a third. As I said to Sue after the conference, Hear it Direct could well eclipse her amazing production accomplishments as her legacy to the industry. It is certainly going to help us. Consumers should know we are listening, and we will not accept status quo.