Though house hunters still want strong relationships with real estate agents, face-to-face interactions once believed to be crucial are being replaced with a wave of new technologies such as live video chatting and 24-hour open communication.
And that’s only the beginning, according to John Bradley, branch vice president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Westfield East office.
“AI and predictive analytics are now on the horizon,” Bradley said. “When the technology is developed that can predict where and what a buyer will ultimately select based on AI and predictive analytics, that will be another twist in the evolving process. One thing that will complicate all of that is human emotion. AI and predictive analytics can crunch all the big data in the universe but sometimes what’s most important is how it feels.”
Christian Schlueter, a broker-sales associate with Re/Max in Toms River, said that because the industry has its sights set firmly on the future, it’s more important than ever for agents to keep abreast of the changes in technology. He cited as examples the industry’s adoption of phone-app rent collections, paperless transactions and social media marketing.
“Real estate tech is ever-evolving,” Schlueter said. “Venture capitalists, blockchain, cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence are all areas we are keeping a close eye on as the real estate tech boom continues to grow exponentially.
“The key to ensuring a strong meshing of real estate and technology is keeping the Realtor and their critical knowledge, expertise, and guidance at the center of the transaction. With all of the information that is out there and the different political climates that can affect private property rights, the Realtors’ role as the trusted advisor is becoming more crucial than ever before.”
But as this year’s president of New Jersey Realtors, Schlueter is keenly aware there is no substitute for the personal touch.
“There’s no trading technology for the face-to-face expertise, knowledge, professionalism and guidance a realtor can bring to a transaction,” he said.
Lawrence Vecchio, broker and owner of Keyport-based VRI Homes, is the creator of HomesIn.com, a town-specific network of websites that enables real estate professionals to market homes and the towns in which they are located.
“Real estate has always been local, but the challenge is how big companies remain local,” Vecchio said. “Most people online avoid Realtors; people don’t go to agents and companies online, they go to Trulia or Zillow. People want access to local, current information. I know there are some people who think a platform without agents is possible, but I think there will always be value to having agents connected to the community and who know the community. Zillow and Trulia have the listing data, but they have no connection to the community at all.”
Vecchio creates a different URL for each of his individual properties — each of his listings boasts its own website — and cites a property’s web presence as one of the most crucial industry changes.
“Online real estate is not going away,” he said. “Technology has changed the number of houses we show. Today, we show a lot less properties than we have in the past. That’s one part where tech has saved us time. Clients have narrowed choices down and tech has decreased showings.”
Bradley calls the proliferation of aggregator sites such as Trulia and Zillow, with their multiple images and detailed property descriptions, “a double-edged sword” for buyers.
“On one hand, the consumer is empowered,” he said. “They have most of the data, they see all the pictures, and they can do a lot of research. On the other hand, the consumer can’t read about possible negatives or concerns surrounding a property. … Online with the proper amount of qualified human interface is the future of real estate and probably most industries.
“Vigilance and respectfulness with technology and using it to enhance and stay connected in meaningful ways is where we are at this time,” he added.
Brian Hosey, regional manager for commercial real estate firm Marcus & Millichap, believes the more things change the more they stay the same.
“Everything will change and nothing will change,” Hosey said. “The way we communicate with people has changed. What hasn’t changed is that customers want to deal with people that they trust and like. It’s boots on the ground — people want to deal with people who are in the know and that will never change. Most commercial property owners don’t want their property broadcast to the world. It’s kind of like why Ferrari doesn’t advertise.”
He cited property tech advancements such as blockchain — a list of records or blocks linked through cryptography that can record transactions — along with online platforms such as DocuSign and wire transfers.
“I think we’re sort of in this in-between point,” Hosey said. “Younger people who are trying to get into this business who use too much tech don’t do too well. Those that know how to deal face to face with people are successful. People who use these tools will benefit if they have the smarts and skills to back it up. At the end of the day, it is a lot of hand-holding. You can’t close deal over the internet — yet.”
Hosey said his firm’s online internal inventory platform, MNet, was created to help investors access properties.
“We realized that there is so much movement of capital,” he said, noting that 3,000 of the firm’s clients who buy in New Jersey come from outside the state. “You need a system in order to tap into that out-of-area capital. I worry about those commercial firms that aren’t transitioning. They should be creating systems to create ways to work more effectively.”
George Vallone, founder of Hoboken Brownstone Co., said the two biggest home-buying groups, millennials and baby boomers, may be on opposing sides of the tech line.
“Millennials like to do everything on their phones,” Vallone said. “They sit in a coffee shop and they go shopping for a house online. Baby boomers still like to deal with a Realtor — they sort of want their hand held.”
Either way, he said the real estate sector needs to evolve with the latest technology.
“It’s the new utility,” he said. “We have to plan for technology. The smart real estate brokers and agents are using tech to reach more people and to do more self-promoting.”
Bradley believes the real estate sector’s adoption of technology has been slower than other industries but has picked up in recent years.
“The ways clients prefer to communicate has changed rapidly, and agents are pivoting to meet the needs of buyers and sellers,” Bradley said. “No matter how you cut it, a real estate transaction is sizeable. Most times these transactions are the largest people make and that can create concerns and apprehensions around security and the internet.
“The real estate experience is finding its place within the tech boom — and at a very fast pace,” he added. “Technology must be harnessed and utilized in order to grow and keep pace with all other businesses. It’s really not optional.”