Which side of the argument are you on? Do you believe that the real estate industry can continue in the same old business model and survive in the next decade? Or do you believe it's time for real estate industries to get with the times?
Here's the business model I'm talking about:
I don't know where your opinion lies, but I believe the days of this business model are numbered, and coming to an end sooner than many might believe. It simply isn't consumer-friendly, and we no longer control listing information to the point that we don't need to care.
When the NAR did its technology survey, more than half of the agents stated that they wanted more in the way of technology help and services from their brokers. Floor time and brand-generated leads are fine, but not as important to them as in the past. In fact, many want no floor time at all. So, what's the answer? It's really a two part answer, one about the Internet, and the other about leveraging agent time and productivity.
"Real estate is local." How many times have you heard it, or said it? It isn't going to change, unless they find a way to move land. Then, we look at the Internet, and its global reach. How do these two factors influence each other, and how can we make them work together for success? The big player brokerages and franchises are furiously creating huge websites at corporate/franchise level. They are driving visitors to the site, and in a variety of ways generating leads that are passed down to the local offices, there divided again, and passed finally to an agent.
And, this strategy might work in the long term. However, the consumer who is searching the Web for local real estate information will have a lot to say about it. Will they get lost in the big sites? Will they get there first if there is not a lot of hyper-local content to catch their search? True, you can buy traffic with PPC, but the cost is high and the content on the landing page needs to be about the local area on which they searched. That is, it should be if you want them to stick around.
I see the most successful Internet real estate website lead generation to be less top-down, and a lot more broad-based. Whether with regular sites or blogs, the large brokerages and franchises need to create web presence at agent level in the local markets. They need to train agents and solicit their input of content for these sites.
The net result of these mini-local presences will be far greater than the huge "we have all of the listings" sites. Real estate will always be local, and the more local a website is in content, the better its ultimate lead generation. The franchises and big players need to look into how to build an Internet lead generation pyramid with the base being a huge number of hyper-local sites. Now, let's get away from marketing and get to productivity and management benefits to agents from technology.
Productivity & Management
But, there's so much more that a brokerage can deliver in the way of technology to agents. These are things that they will value because they provide the tools to increase productivity, manage their time, and manage customer data that leads to sales.
Office and contact-prospect management - I commend Keller Williams for their adoption of the WebEx WebOffice Intranet platform for their franchise offices. They have had it for a while, and I'm sure that it has helped them to sell some franchises.
However, the main value is in the ability to set up customized databases for real estate brokerage office management, login from anywhere by agents, and their ability to manage their independent contractor real estate activities on a company-provided system.
Internet faxing corporate account - This is a centralized account, but with separate fax numbers for the agents, and these will all deliver PDF documents to email Inboxes. The company can set up for all faxes to copy the office, and the agents can retrieve their faxes anywhere.
It isn't just about the agents loving it either. The brokerage realizes economies and better control of documents as well. Think about a brokerage email address that receives a copy of every fax the agent receives. The agent has a copy for their file, and so does the office. With rules or filters on the account, these faxes can be routed to folders for the individual transactions.
Group accounts for reminders and tasks - Though this function is easily handled with the Intranet discussed above, there are other ways, and less costly. Even if all the brokerage does is to instruct the agents in the available options, and help them to set up accounts at sites like RememberTheMilk.com orToodledo.com, it will be a perceived value to their affiliation.
Provide help in their accounting - There is a totally free online service at Xpenser.com that was set up for keeping track of expenses for reimbursement. However, the feature set will work fine for simple independent contractor real estate expense and income tracking. I use it and love it.
There are so many productivity tools at very low cost or for free on the Web. This doesn't mean that the brokerage isn't adding value by bringing them to the agent's attention. By helping them to discover these tools, and instructions in their use, the brokerage is helping the agent to succeed. And, that means success for the brokerage as well.