When you think of real estate, you probably don’t think of virtual reality or smartphone applications.
But like many industries, real estate agencies are realizing that if they want to remain in business, they can’t “hold onto the past.”
Gone are the days of spending the weekend touring countless homes just to get an idea of what’s on the market. Now, sites like Zillow — a database of hundreds of listings complete with photos and pricing history — are right at your fingertips.
“A lot of people like to say technology destroys jobs, but a lot of times it evolves an industry,” said Casey Everts, digital strategist at Revolution Realty in Cedar Rapids.
Although Zillow might be a good starting point, Everts isn’t convinced it’s the only thing that sells a client on a home. Instead, it’s a handful of online tools and guidance from a tech-savvy agent.
“In the old days we’d just slap a stack of MLS sheets in front of (sellers) and go through the information and they’d go glossy eyed in 30 seconds and just kind of keel over from information overload,” said Brian Hoel, a Skogman realtor who uses a variety of technical tools to help sell homes.
One is Skogman’s smartphone application that allows users to pull up listings anywhere, anytime.
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“People want information right now,” he said. “The app is our attempt at getting people the information they need as quickly as we can.”
“When we’re negotiating back and forth, sometimes people can get a little heated,” he explained.
With video, it’s easier to “explain the concepts we’re trying to get across” and it “makes everything so much more clear and calms everybody down,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Revolution Realty, Everts and the company’s co-founders Rob Stiles and Jeremy Wilson are working to create a web tool where realtors, buyers and sellers are all on the same page at the same time.
The idea is to create transparency and “streamline” the process: buyers could log in to their site, search and save homes, research listings, read about the community, take notes, give feedback and sign and keep any documents related to the sale in the same place, all of which would be accessible to them and the realtor. Instead of waiting to hear from their agent via phone or email, buyers, sellers and agents would be able to see all of the information and updates in real time.
“We’re making it so the relationship between agent and consumer is symbiotic ... it helps us get the job done faster and better,” Stiles said.
Many agencies are also using Facebook to advertise and adding video or virtual tours to their website so people can tour a home without even stepping through the door.
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Both Revolution and FSBO Homes have 3D virtual tours on their website and are in the process of introducing a virtual reality headset.
Skogman does walk-through video tours, which give buyers an idea of the layout and what living there “might be like,” Hoel said.
“What we found is if you can give (clients) the opportunity to get the information they want without having to be in the house, they’re able to make these decisions a lot quicker,” he said.
Even though some of these new technologies have been slow to “hit the Midwest,” Hoel said realtors that “embrace technology” generally sell listings faster and for a higher price because it sets those listings above others, giving sellers an “edge.”
It’s even easier to navigate the process completely without a realtor with FSBO Homes.
Buyers simply visit the website, tour listed properties online and set up an in-person tour with the seller. Then, usually after a verbal agreement, buyers return to the website to make an offer. Once that offer is accepted, buyers and sellers will meet at a brick-and-mortar FSBO Homes location to meet with a real estate attorney to finish the deal.
This approach completely eliminates the need for realtor commission, thereby “redefining how real estate is done,” said Chad Boge, FSBO Homes co-owner.
Ultimately, technology is making “the process as smooth, simple and stress free” as possible, Hoel added.
“It’s not going to be stress free all the time but if we can mitigate that as much as possible for our clients, that’s really what technology is out there for, It’s not necessarily always about having the big shiny new thing, it’s about bringing technology in to give your clients a better experience over all.”