Although real estate is still very much a face-to-face business, there’s no doubt that technology has dramatically changed the profession.
Records which used to be buried in file folders are now easily available on smartphones and other devices.
While The Torontoism team still has office space at Sotheby's International Real Estate Canada, they have also embraced the technology available to work remotely, an option that has increased substantially over the past few years according to studies conducted by FlexWork.com. These studies conclude that workers are demanding flexibility, and, in return, companies are developing flexible work policies.
Tracy An, our Sales Representative, is always prepared to work remotely
Office on the go means that I have my smartphone, my iPad and my laptop. I use different storage and applications so I can work anywhere in the world.
However, the old-fashioned paperwork still finds its way back to Tracy:
I cut back quite a bit on paperwork but it depends on the client. If they are retired or older, they might not have a computer or have a hard time reading what’s on the screen so I use paper for that. But other than that, I do everything online.
Fax machines, ubiquitous just three or four years ago, are now gathering dust in offices across the country.
The power of WeChat and Other Software Suggestions
For her Asian clients, An makes extensive use of WeChat, a popular Chinese social media site, which offers voice calls, text messaging, video calling and document sharing.
An tells the story of a friend who recently walked into a restaurant in Beijing, with no cashier and no wait staff. Instead, you use WeChat to order and pay for your meal, with the software sending you a message when the order is ready.
We're not quite there in Canada yet, but record keeping in real estate has changed entirely according to Jim Burtnick, our broker and senior vice president.
You used to keep files around for everything, but it's now in the cloud via apps like Evernote and Google Drive. You have to be perpetually changing. If you asked me two years ago about DocuSign, I would have said I've heard of it, but I can't use it yet because it's not legal here.
DocuSign, software used to verify electronic signatures, has become a game changer, says Richard Silver our sales representative and senior vice president . And it's a relatively recent development: electronic signatures were illegal in Ontario until June 2015.
Burtnick says half the battle is staying relevant by learning new things about technology and social media every day.
There's a great app I started using about a year ago called Rapportive. You have to do a lot of screening on clients and I can find all I need using the software, then I can click to LinkedIn and invite you to connect. That was a new one for me in terms of providing a decent vetting for potential clients.
The paperless advantage
Richard, who uses an iPhone, iPad and iMac, says he is "pretty much paperless these days".
Richard also uses WebForms software to create documents from the internet, such as listings or sale agreements. Then he signs them with DocuSign and e-mails it to the client. Richard also likes the level of security DocuSign uses.
He is also a big fan of the Apple products:
The great thing about Mac products is they all talk to each other so that's the number one advantage [over PCs].
Consumers have driven the technological changes in real estate, using their mobile devices and tablets to search properties and get information relevant to specific properties. Studies show that 89% of potential buyers access real estate information online. That changes the role of the broker to more of a consultant or trusted advisor, says Silver, who's entrusted with checking out the neighbourhood for schools and other key amenities, and offering historical information on the property that isn't widely available.
And even though clients have plenty of data on the real estate market available online, there's a flip side. Jim Burtnick knows well what the realtor's role is in the age of internet.
What a realtor provides is a filter for all this information that they are bombarded with that makes it directly applicable to them. There's so much noise out there that it becomes information overload for a lot of people.
In an example, Jim introduces the issue of pricing one's property based on misunderstanding the information accessed via internet
We filter information and bring into terms of what it means in each client's particular case. There's a feeling out there in the public that the best strategy is to price low and hope for multiple offers. But not all houses sell on multiple offers, it's the minority that do. So that strategy might work well for on particular type of housing, but not for others; it can be detrimental in some cases.
Jim also places a lot of importance on being in touch with his clients and the public. The Torontoism team works with a vast database, e-mail newsletters, social media and media coverage.
Jim Burtnick passed on wisdom he once heard:
Your social capital is not how many people you know but how well you know people.
Despite the changes, the nature of the business remains the same. Tracy still has to check out the neighbourhood and see if the surrounding area is good for the client.
Less paperwork gives us more time with our clients, and I think that's the key.
What’s next in technology?
Sotheby's is now offering virtual tours of homes and brokers will soon be able to walk through a property using a camera, offering out-of-town and foreign buyers a live view of the property. Also in the pipeline are stronger visuals with better cameras, a virtual reality walk through with Google Glass, and even drones to offer a better view of larger properties, especially those in the country.
Richard says the company is looking at a new customer relationship management (CRM) system. He notes that a good CRM is the life blood of the real estate business due to the need to keep in touch regularly with clients—something he says 90% of real estate agents don’t do.
You need reminders to get on the phone and call people. If you’ve been in the business for a long time, you might have thousands of clients and you must keep in touch with them on a regular basis, just to let them know you’re still around and still working and listing properties.
Software mentioned in this article:
- WeChat: a popular Chinese social media site, similar to Facebook messenger (Facebook is not available in China).
- Evernote: an application to store electronic notes you can easily find later.
- Google Drive: a document sharing application
- DocuSign: a secure application that allows you to sign documents anywhere from any device
- WebForms: an application for downloading or creating forms from the internet
- Rapportive: allows you to find LinkedIn profiles and other information using Gmail accounts