Tech Effects Differences in the Selling Process

It wasn’t so long ago that most New York City real estate professionals disdained all electronic devices. Sage advice dictated that nothing would replace the face-to-face or voice-to-voice relationship between buyer and broker and seller and broker. Many resisted company-wide voice mail, thinking that a buyer would hang up when confronted with a machine, or that with competition so stiff, he or she would keep calling until someone in the office picked up the phone.

Today there are still buyers who will continue their dialing until they contact a bona fide agent that is willing to listen. Nevertheless, the impact of voice mail and other technological advances on the real estate industry is immeasurable.

Being reachable has never been more important than now. We are living in a "want it fast, want it now " culture. Since accessibility is key, cell phones, beepers, pagers and e-mail are the new tools of the trade. Yet one can feel the resistance, especially amongst agents who have been in the business 15 years or more. Technology is affecting their business and personal lives in ways never dreamed of only six years ago. Whereas it used to be deemed rude to roam the streets of Manhattan talking on the phone, now it is judged rude not to have a phone because a customer or client may not be able to reach you.

The expression "you can run, but you cannot hide" was never truer than today. Most agents have two regular phones, each equipped with an answering machine, a cell phone with voice mail, and at least one e-mail address. Information is being processed mentally, visually, and orally in such an intense fashion that agents need to program time for relaxation now more than ever. We have taken a technology leap that has given us the possibility to be more effective and more communicative, but our agents need to take the leap in the learning curve. Training on the computer, the phones and with personal digital assistants (PDA’s) is crucial for survival.

But it is perhaps the Internet more than any other advance that has profoundly impacted the way brokers sell. There are agencies across the country that are finding that Internet buyers are their largest source of business. The National Association of Realtors asserts that nationally 23 percent of the potential homebuyers are looking for homes online, and in the New York City metropolitan area that number may be even greater. This statistic signals that buyers have higher expectations of real estate agents than they ever have before. They are looking for improvement of services, short-cuts to identifying a home, and a faster buying process.

The various residential websites are seeking to meet the high demand with listings displayed in a variety of visual ways to help pre-sell properties. Douglas Elliman currently uses IPIX tours, 360-degree views of properties, elaborate show sheets, maps, and virtual tours, all providing a wealth of information to customers and clients. The brokers who cannot supply these "selling features" will be playing catch-up in this next period in order to stay afloat.

There has been much talk about disintermediation, the act of cutting out the middleman, in this case the real estate agent. We have seen the online auctions of properties from coast to coast. The board interview process in New York City has kept the auctions from taking off here, but brokers should recognize the efficiency of this process and be prepared for it. Many of the present property auction sites are utilizing agents because there still needs to be "hands-on" professionals who can show a property, negotiate a deal and complete the transaction. Third party transactions and fees for services will all impact the real estate business in the future.

As a group, Manhattan brokerage firms must be attentive to the changing consumer profile – their needs, their wants, and their technological demands – and develop programs to meet them. The new technology compliments, rather than supplants, the traditional methods of selling, but the firms and their agents need to respond to the new methodology. This will ensure that the relationship between agents and their customers and clients remains strong in the future.

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