Real Estate Technology: Franchises vs. Independent Brokerages
Future Success In the Cloud
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? What business model do I mean?
- Brokerage opens its doors, sets up office space for agents.
- Agents are recruited with differing split and services offers.
- Marketing and training are provided to help agents succeed.
- The better agents do, the better the brokerage does.
- Agents have been lured in the past by franchises with big brand names.
- Brand office leads and floor time have been highly valued.
- Brokerages developed company web presence, leaving agents to their own devices.
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 NAR did their 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.
Using the Internet to Connect to the Local Consumer
Let's talk about the Internet, websites, and how leads are generated. How it is done now, how do the big players seem to be addressing it, and what I believe is a better way for:
- Agent recruitment and retention
- Assuring the success of agents
- Leveraging the local nature of real estate
"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.
Websites and lead generation are definitely extremely important items for real estate agents. 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
These days more of the real estate website providers are integrating back office and marketing tools into their product offerings. You can even do drip email and the other things you want to do for an efficient real estate office operation.
However, the main value is in the ability to set up customized databases for real estate brokerage office management, log in 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 and anytime.
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 or Toodledo.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 for their use, the brokerage is helping the agent to succeed. And, that means success for the brokerage as well.