By BECKY GILLETTE
Technology has revolutionized the real estate industry, freeing real estate agents from their offices and changing the way consumers receive information, making interactions with clients more efficient, said Lisa Hollister, president of Mississippi Realtors and a broker associate at Moran Realty, Ocean Springs.
“Today we are shifting more to mobile technology, using apps to access broker websites and multiple listing systems (MLS), connecting through social media, and developing a paperless transaction,” Hollister said. “While this innovation benefits the Realtor and the consumer experience, technology has made it easy to forget that real estate is and always will be a face-to-face, relationship business. Therefore, it is imperative for today’s Realtor to recognize when to use it and when to turn it off.”
Jerome Nettles, broker, ERA Town & Campus Realty, Starkville, said technology has facilitated buyers in the market for a property to shop from the comfort of their homes first.
“Technology hasn’t taken the place of a real estate agent with local knowledge and experience,” Nettles said. “But it has absolutely made it easier for home buyers to find a home that they love.”
Another big change has been the amount of paper used in a real estate office. Nettles said 80 to 90 percent of their documents no longer involve paper, but electronic signatures exchanged on email.
“Our clients love it,” Nettles said. “There is no more, ‘Meet me at the coffee shop so I can get your signature’. We send them documents on email, and they can give us a call to have anything they don’t understand explained. Then it is on to the other Realtor as soon as they finish signing. It has made facilitating document transfer back and forth much easier.”
His company’s website is probably his favorite app. It provides an interface for buyers while they are riding around on their own searching for property. If they see something they like and want more information, they can get it without even having to call anyone. But should they need more information, just a touch of the screen and they are automatically in touch with their agent by text and email.
Another program his company just launched on its website allows potential homebuyers browsing a neighborhood who see one of their signs to text a keyword into the number on the sign, and within five seconds, they have all the public MLS information at their fingertips.
Technology may have also made it easier for owners to sell their property without a real estate agent. People can take photos of their property, provide information about it, and post it to a website like Zillow.
“Technology has absolutely given some people the urge to do for sale by owner,” Nettles said. “It seems like you can snap some pictures, throw it on the Internet, and the job will do itself. But given the high stakes that are involved, unless you are well versed in real estate laws, it is a risky slope. You hear about court cases with for sale by owners. When there is a problem in a real estate transaction, it is usually big and expensive. So much goes on behind scenes that it makes it difficult for inexperienced people to enter into the realm of a professional’s career. Eighty-five percent of the time, profitability could have been maximized if a Realtor was used with the house.”
Real estate has changed dramatically in the past 15 years.
“Back in the 2000s and before, you would get a call and either go meet client at a house or at the office, sit down with them, and talk about their needs listing or buying a house,” said Mark Warren, ERA Real Estate Professionals in Ridgeland. “You would look at the MLS, then go look at houses, do a tour, come back and manually write up a contract. From there it would normally be hand delivered or faxed to other agent.”
Compare that to today when electronic communications have revolutionized the whole process.
“The ability to go mobile with your technology is probably the biggest asset,” Warren said. “You not tied to a brick-and-mortar office. It allows you to be more proficient in performing services away from the office, and it allows you to react that much faster to the needs of customers. The customer’s ability to access more information has changed the industry tremendously. It has forced traditional brokers to be more efficient in how we handle our business. We have seen the same thing in the print industry. Before we used to use the MLS books and before it even came out, it was outdated.”
His favorite app is Zap, provided through the ERA franchise system, which is a complete customer relations management system that can be used on a phone, iPad or computer.
“That is the one we are really excited about from an agent’s standpoint,” Warren said. “The most important thing you can do is maintain contact with all the relationships you gather. It is no more waiting for phone to ring. You have to go out and find your customers and win them over. That is what it is about.”
Other apps real estate agents find very useful, he said, include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Realestateagent.com also has apps that are very popular.
Warren said having all paperwork online makes it far easier for the clients and agents both.
“We do the research, show the house, and then we come back and send them digital contracts to esign,” he said. “Once it is esigned online, it automatically goes to online storage. It is available to clients 24\7 and then automatically goes out as an offer on the site. The speed we can do a deal now is so much greater because of technology.”