Homebuyers sold on technology

I know that I am again preaching to the converted but here is a good article for the Witchita Eagle Newspaper talking about the importance of being a technological Realtor. Not only should Realtors use technology to their advantage but also be better at the other parts of the sales process from negotiating to creating a very paperless process for buyers and sellers. It would be nice to pictue a contract in the future without scribbling out of lines and initials everywhere.


By Therese Poletti

Mercury News

When former entertainment industry executive Catherine Marcus was selling her home in Atherton at the height of the technology boom, she grew incredibly frustrated when her real estate agent was not prompt at returning e-mails or phone calls.

“I could never get hold of him, he would never check e-mail,” said Marcus, who has since become a top-performing real estate agent at chi-chi Sotheby’s International. “When smart people are making the biggest acquisition of their life, they want to deal with smart people who are the most competent to get the job done.”

Marcus’ experience led her to investigate the possibilities of a career in real estate. She found that her knowledge of technology was an asset in a business that is still to a large extent technophobic. Consumers are now empowered in any real estate transaction, with a plethora of tools available to them on the Internet and a proliferation of mobile technology, and have forced the real estate industry to become more tech savvy.

“The demand from consumers is overwhelming,” said Brad Inman, the publisher of Inman News and founder of HomeGain, both based in Emeryville. “If you are not using technology, you are not talking to the consumer.”

According to a report issued by the California Association of Realtors in March, almost two-thirds of first-time home buyers used the Internet as a first step in their quest for a home.

The empowered consumer is light-years away from the way real estate was conducted just a decade ago. Before the Internet revolution began, Realtors were the only ones who had access to the data from the Multiple Listing Service, or the MLS, where almost every agent lists a new home on the market. A major reason to hire a Realtor was to see what was on the market. Now large portions of the MLS have been made available to consumers, through various Web aggregators and regional multiple listing services.

`That is incredible’

“It was a big secret book that no one could get their hands on,” Inman said. “That whole thing has imploded and it’s on the Internet. That is incredible.”

As a result, the role of the real estate agent is changing from the keeper of the data to a strategist, psychologist and even more of an über salesperson. Industry analysts and executives said there are still agents who are afraid of and unfamiliar with technology, and eventually, this could hurt their business.

“There are some Realtors today who wouldn’t use e-mail if they didn’t have to,” said Gregg Larson, president of Clareity Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Your average consumer was more tech-enabled and tech-literate than the average Realtor a few years ago, and that creates an imbalance. . . . But recently there has been a lot more investment in technology.”

As more real estate companies consolidate and become bigger giants, they tend to invest in more technology, Larson said. Still, according to the California Association of Realtors, as of late last year, only 45 percent of their Realtors surveyed used e-mail as their primary form of communication with clients.

“It’s as if an agent picked you up to see a home in a stage coach and they said, `I’m very automobile illiterate,’ ” said Marc Davison, founder of VREO Software in San Luis Obispo, a developer of real estate systems, software, services and tablet PCs.

But the Realtors who are using technology are finding that they have gained an edge in a competitive market, especially in the Bay Area, where there is a huge influx of new realtors, many coming from the technology industry.

Vital marketing tool

With so many consumers using the Internet to peruse listings, find recent home sale prices, research a neighborhood and shop for mortgages, agents are starting to see the Web’s advantages. Some now see it as a key marketing tool for themselves and their properties. Just over half of Realtors now have a personal Web site, according to CAR.

Those who are Web savvy also use digital cameras to post photos and create virtual tours of the properties for sale. Others use target marketing with ads to reach consumers via search engines like Google or Yahoo. Many sign up their clients for automatic listing updates to be delivered to their clients from the MLS, and the most advanced are experimenting with digitizing some of the documents involved in the hugely paper-intensive process of “closing” the purchase.

John Pinto, a San Jose real estate agent, is a big proponent of the totally paperless transaction, a holy grail for the industry. He is also a founder of Transaction Management Services in Morgan Hill, a company that coordinates all the paperwork for Realtors in a transaction, making the deal completely digital, except for final signatures at escrow.

“It’s very much a military metaphor with a stationary headquarters and a mobile workforce,” Pinto said. “I model my operation on the military soldier of the future.”

Pinto has a RED Tablet computer, developed by Criterion, a San Bruno company recently purchased by VREO, with which he uses pen-based technology and digital signatures to wirelessly transmit new listings for posting on the MLS, and sends disclosures and other documents back to his office for filing in a digital vault, accessible only by clients and staff.

Therese Swan, a real estate agent with Alain Pinel in Los Gatos, said she uses direct Internet marketing to draw possible clients to her Web site, along with the increasingly standard photo tour or virtual tour of a home for individual listings. Swan, who has a degree in computer science, has created individual Web sites for very high-end properties, such as a site she created, with the help of a Web developer, for an $8.5 million property now in escrow.

“I think I have a big advantage,” Swan said. “Some of these agents are still struggling with e-mail. Part of it is I know how to get data, I know how to use mobile technology. It gives me a huge advantage in being able to help my clients sell and buy houses.”

Updating an old tool

An old tool that has been in use for 30 years has become even more important because of the Internet, the concept of staging a home. For years, realtors or a staging expert come to clean up a home, remove the clutter, do small repair jobs or even paint the interior, to present its best image possible. With the popularity of virtual tours, this old technique becomes even more important.

“On the Internet, staging has even more impact,” said Barb Schwartz, the creator of the concept of staging and president of StagedHomes.com in Concord. “So many of today’s buyers start looking on the Internet, they start boiling it down. They look at pictures and if the pictures are bad, they won’t go look at the house.”

Faramarz Rashed, a software development manager at a Silicon Valley company, said he used the Internet to sell his home and buy another.

“It was 100 percent of the equation. In this day and age, you don’t have that much time after work to go and search for properties,” Rashed said. This past spring, Rashed sold a three-bedroom home in San Jose for $780,000 and his family upgraded to a larger home in Los Gatos. Rashed sold his home for more than other recent sales in his area, a fact he attributed to research done by his agent, Kirsten Reilly of Intero in Saratoga, and because his home was so well-staged.

Could technology do away with the need for a real estate agent? More individuals are selling homes themselves through Web sites like craigslist. But Davison said real estate agents are not an endangered species if they provide a real service to consumers.

“What I think is endangered is any group of business people that doesn’t pay heed to the changing shifts of the American consumer,” Davison said

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