Technically speaking

EXCLUSIVE: Leading IT providers lift the lid on the trends that are poised to revolutionise the real estate industry.

TECHNOLOGY IS fast becoming one of the greatest differentiators in the real estate industry. This extends way beyond the systems and platforms that agents apply to their own businesses; it is also bound to changing client attitudes and preferences when it comes to social media, gathering information and how to communicate.

To better understand the impact technology is now having on the industry, Real Estate Business recently brought together senior executives from some of the country’s leading real estate technology providers to gain their insights into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for principals.

What factors are having the greatest influence on how technology is being used by agents?

EDDIE CETIN
We’re seeing agents who need an easy way of communicating with their clients [now using] social media, phones, SMS marketing and email marketing. Having it all unified and being able to have it all at their fingertips is vital, with iPad apps at open inspections, capturing all the data possible and being able to control the message so it isn’t contradictory out there in the marketplace.

PETRA SPREKOS
The mobile apps [facilitate] a lot of the onerous tasks that real estate agents avoid doing – such as data entry and capturing information – but which are critical as part of that business. In our experience, we have found the apps have allowed agents to do that.

HENRY RUIZ
Just the fact that you’re using an iPad – in a potential vendor’s mind, they’re like, ‘OK, this guy is up with it and understands where the technology is going’, and I think from a potential principal’s perspective, their understanding of technology and embracing cutting edge stuff, even if it doesn’t eventually work, is OK.

TONY BLAMEY
The whole use of technology in order to build trust and create credibility has always been the challenge in the real estate industry. By using tools and real life examples you can break down those barriers and build that trust with the vendor.

TOM WHITE
The speed at which consumers have access to information these days [compared with] five years ago is dramatically different. Getting rich information in front of somebody straight away is the expected norm, and if the real estate industry is not providing this experience to their clients, those clients then think there is something wrong.

BARBARA MEISTER
Capturing data is one thing, but to be able to provide relevant information to the user [is another]. There is still a fairly broad approach to how to market the information and listings back to the potential buyer, or to people who want to rent. Also, the interaction is missing with a lot of the older tools. Consumers are now using iPads and new technology; they are much more used to a quick response and to have media integrated; they want to watch videos; they want to be part of the interaction.

How are the best in the business using technology to their advantage?

BARBARA MEISTER
Certain technologies won’t go away. Successful businesses are able to blend and understand which technology is most successful in which area … to understand which is the best CRM, [you need to ask] how can the data be utilised – so, how can I target the customer in the most effective way, providing relevant information at the right time in the right spot?

SCOTT SHEPHERD
[It’s about] the ability to provide the service to your clients that they are expecting. If someone is expecting service at 3am on a Sunday … obviously you can’t provide that from an open office point of view, but you certainly can from an online system point of view. If you’ve got systems that provide that service or information at that time, then they’re going to access it at that time. They’re not going to come to you during office hours, and that’s going to reduce the workload.

EDDIE CETIN
 I’d also say having a cloud-based mobility for the people out there, and the top performers are using that to their advantage. Having that instant information, having that ability to automate those tasks, follow up, client nurturing – having all of that [information] in their CRM makes them a top performer, which really allows them to handle four times the amount of listings.

TOM WHITE
We’re a data company, and a huge job for an agent with the consumer is to create trust. We’re seeing some of our best clients using technology to help create that trust, and they’re doing that through open access to information, by providing transparency to the consumer.

SCOTT SHEPHERD
There’s a lot of data available, but what the principal wants is not data, it’s information about his business, and about what they should do next. So, it is our job as technology providers not to give them data but information, and in a format that’s quickly and readily accessible and usable.

PETRA SPREKOS
You see the people that are the best in the industry and they have the biggest databases because [they’re able] to put the data in the system. The system can be fantastic but if you don’t have the guts behind it, it’s not going to deliver what you want as a business.

SCOTT WULFF
But even more so, it’s [about] doing it consistently ... my belief is that the best real estate agent in Perth is the guy who contacts me every week. He’s not a MyDesktop user, but he’s a ripper. If I was to list, I would use him because he consistently gives me good information every single week.

HENRY RUIZ
The guys who do this that are the best in the industry. It’s all in their psychological approach to technology. They don’t hold onto the ‘old ways’ of doing business; they’re quite open to doing things that potentially could disrupt their business today to get a better outcome in the medium to long term. [Practically, they have] the right mindset, which means that they talk to companies like ours.

How are consumers influencing technology in the real estate industry?

HENRY RUIZ
Consumer expectation is: ‘I want it here and now, super-fast’ … so, as a real estate agent professional, you want to make sure you stay up with the technology so you’re always one step ahead of prospective listers. [Secondly], there’s lots of ‘pan-platform use’. If I begin on a mobile device, I will seamlessly move to an iPad to a desktop or a laptop. I want to just pick up activities from where I am – anywhere through that sequence.

TOM WHITE
It’s almost the expectation that [consumers] want to be supported at 3am on a Sunday. And I think that’s a challenge, of course – how technology is pushing agents into this high-response arena … and being perceived to be available 24/7. Personal websites help you do that, social media helps you do that, and online data tools help you do that.

BARBARA MEISTER
In addition to that, the consumer has an easy way to compare information, which is really important. The consumers expect you to have information from different sources coming in, and to compare them on the spot.

PETRA SPREKOS
[Influence comes from] the expectations of landlords and vendors’ property managers, and how they want agents to communicate, how many people came through the door for open inspections, how many applications have come through… [There’s now an app] that enables the landlord to access that type of information in a quick way, which is what agents’ customers are wanting more of.

HENRY RUIZ
If you have a look at what people are doing – on multiple devices – typically in media, if you’re talking about print to online, people go from one medium to another medium and they never actually go back. When you’re talking about digital media, they actually use all the media concurrently. So we’re actually growing the amount of time [consumers spend on media].

TONY BLAMEY
On the whole print side, I think the media landscape has become fragmented. Every time a new technology comes along, it competes for that space. Henry’s point is right: media consumption is certainly growing, but I don’t think those older media will go away. Radio has been around for a long time – it’s got its certain role to play – and so does print media. When [consumers] are highly active, they will be on the web, they’ll be seeking as much information as possible. When they’re more passive, when they’re just wanting to know what their property is worth, they will access different content through different media.

How do you integrate with the other technology providers in the room?

SCOTT WULFF
Today, we will send out 140 feeds, multiple times, to third party providers. If one thing comes out of today I am hoping it will be to foster the concept of integration because, the one thing I think we are all – hand on heart – looking to do for our clients, is to minimise the amount of data entry that they require. To make sure that as a collective we almost set up an industry standard, or a code of conduct, that requires us to do the right thing by our clients. You’ve got people that have been ‘talked into’ having their website, CRM, data and their property management all hosted by one provider.

TOM WHITE
One of our mantras is that we just want our customers to get the best out of our system as they possibly can, and if that means we have to participate and work with other providers on one particular function, then that shouldn’t be a disadvantage to our client.

PETRA SPREKOS
Clients’ expectations have changed – they want to be everywhere. They need to be on every website, advertising properties. One of the glaringly obvious [things] that we could do as a collective is around the XML feeds. There are all different types of feeds. At realestateVIEW.com.au, we also multi-load and feed out to a number of providers and it does provide headaches.

Are there any strategies that principals should focus on when it comes to technology?

TONY BLAMEY
I think we’ve all got people in the field who are there to consult. We survey our clients and they do look at our account managers as trusted consultants, and I think they should use them appropriately.

SCOTT WULFF
I think one thing principals need to do is to embrace [technology] more. I mean, I cry every time I hear of a principal spending $30,000 on a server, and that is not unusual. In fact, I know of two in the past two months, but you could get away with buying 10 iPads at $600 each and achieve the same end goal if your technology is ‘right’ within the office.

TOM WHITE
I think one of the big takeaways for me would be this: Don’t be afraid of information in the hands of consumers because it’s likely they’ve already got it, and if you don’t give it to them they’ll get it from a competitor. The other thing is education, education, education. Many of us would provide free education seminars, road show sessions etc – there’s so many ways to get involved in understanding what technology can do for you. It’s not going to cost you money.

HENRY RUIZ
Challenge beliefs and perceptions. We can’t predict the future but we do have some good leading indicators, and we see that technology is evolving in other markets, other countries, at different speeds to Australia. So, when our guys talk to our customers, we do have some additional information.

What trends are you seeing in the uptake of video?

PETRA SPREKOS
I think that video is consumer-driven and it is an expectation now. Traditionally, video was in the top end of the market, but now it has become more and more affordable for everyone to have a video. The consumer wants the most information; they think the agent is hiding information if they only put up three to four photos. In a few years time, if a listing doesn’t have a video then it will [undermine] the trust of agents.

TONY BLAMEY
You certainly get the feeling that in some parts of the industry there is a desire to withhold information with the belief that if I withhold it, then a potential buyer will need to come to me. But that is old school thinking: the listings with video on Domain get about three to four times the viewer inquiries that a non-video property has. That’s about engagement and getting the right people to look at the property.

What about the future of the shop front?

SCOTT WULFF
I don’t think they’ll fall away. They’ve gone from being a small to a super [shop front] and I think they’ll head back to being a small because you don’t need that massive exposure. You’re getting 30 times the exposure of your brand through effective social media marketing.

TONY BLAMEY
There are certainly overheads when it comes to shop fronts – a continued pressure for a local real estate agent. I think to balance that, there’s a real benefit in having a connection within the local community and being in the high street – being a face that’s known, and a brand that’s known. The shop front provides that to a large extent.

SCOTT SHEPHERD
I think it’s the exact same argument for property management as it is for the sales agent. I mean, we’ve talked before about the different mediums and how they form a part of your brand. I think the shop front is just one more part of that. I don’t think there’s a blanket [statement, such as] ‘It will all be gone or everyone has to have it’. You have to blend it in with the rest of your marketing to get your brand out there.

Where do you see technology heading in the future?

TONY BLAMEY
Certainly mobile, and that whole mobility both for consumers and for agents is a trend that we would see continuing. We’re getting around 40 per cent of visits now coming from those devices – and it’s still growing. The other thing that’s interesting for real estate is the IPTV [internet protocol television] trend. So, you’ve got a big TV screen in the middle of your lounge room, incredibly conducive to look at property.

HENRY RUIZ
A lot of the technology that we’ll provide, we repackage up and actually give it to our customers as a platform. From a realestate.com.au perspective, as an example, we’ll use our website technology and mobile technology which you can then brand as a real estate agency.

BARBARA MEISTER
 It goes back to value and customer experience – how can we increase that? [You also need] to think about how you can close the deal more effectively – how you can work, for example, with banks, mortgage brokers etc … If you’re an agency, how can you make it easy for the customer to get them over the line? Because that’s always the hurdle.

SCOTT WULFF
The last thing I would be doing now is to sign up a five-year lease on a shop front. I think that the shop fronts are going to get a lot smaller and online is going to take over. In terms of where we’re changing, we’re preparing at the moment for a three-year time frame where all of our products will be delivered by app rather than by browser.

promoted stories

REB Events