Is a code of conduct for real estate industry technology service providers on the horizon? CEO of MyDesktop, Scott Wulff, takes a look

PERHAPS THE most common catch phrase thrown around today is the need for a real estate business owner to ‘work on the business, not in the business’.

This recognises that a real estate agency is not just a conduit for bringing together buyers and sellers, or landlords and tenants. It is also an employer of people and a payer of taxes, subject to the same rules and business requirements as any small- to medium-sized business, and it must be approached as such.

Further to this, is the need for a business owner to identify risks and minimise exposure to them.

Key to this is a separation of functions. For example, the person who initiates the purchase order should not be the person who initiates the payment order, or who signs the cheques.

Exactly the same concept can be applied to the use of technology in a real estate agent’s office.

Technology in the Australian real estate industry is very specialised, and technology developers have tended to focus on specific aspects of the business to develop very particular product suites. You only have to acknowledge the very dedicated services of leading industry businesses – property management, data, CRM, e-marketing, website design – as proof of this.

Each of the leaders has chosen to focus on one area of expertise, and the result is a potentially disjointed suite of offerings for agents.

Market leaders are market leaders for a reason, and typically there are two reasons leading to one outcome – a quality product at a fair price means the best value for money.

Despite this logic, a number of providers are creating or acquiring various products, cobbling them together and marketing them to be ‘the one-stop shop’.

The selling points for these offerings are that they minimise data entry, and the agent only has to pay one bill each month.

The first point is generally correct and definitely valid. The second is foolish.

For the alleged benefit of only having to write one cheque each month, the agent potentially exposes the business to unwarranted price hikes, an inability to make change through historical data being held to ransom, and the likelihood of the agent’s web presence being lost whilst they build a more flexible strategy.

Not a good trade off.

There is a strong push amongst leading technology providers towards cross-product integration, a concept that needs to be driven by the agency community.

Through technology providers accepting a responsibility to transfer data accurately and in a timely manner, they acknowledge that the needs and flexibility of the agency are paramount. In addition, by not forcing an agent to use their product, but winning clients on the merit of the software, they are demonstrating their confidence in the technology.

Providers working together is a reality, and an industry-standard data transfer specification has emerged. It is, however, very much an ad hoc approach, with some providers fully supporting it (MyDesktop sends out 180 feeds multiple times each day), whilst others use it as a money-making venture.

A number of providers have held general discussions on the establishment of a code of conduct, and 2013 may see more happen in this direction.

The code needs to cover aspects such as the elimination of unfair service fees for agents, minimum service requirements (including frequency of data transfer), minimum demand requirements to establish a ‘feed’, specific requirements for the return of an agent’s data, and the rules governing the behaviour of providers in their dealings with each other.

The fact that providers are considering the concept means a common behaviour should emerge and this will only assist agents.

“A number of providers have held general discussions on the establishment of a code of conduct, and 2013 may see more happen in this direction”

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