By: Steve Wunker
“Consumers don’t trust real estate agents,” says Jimmy Mackin, whose business is selling software to…real estate agents. He continues, “There are minimal requirements to become a licensed real estate agent. The industry tends to attract the get-rich-quick crowd.”
How could someone with such a dire assessment of an industry make his living selling to it? And what are the lessons others can draw from how COVID is accelerating a long-overdue industry transformation?
Lessons from a Vendor
Mackin runs a business called Curaytor, which provides marketing services to tech-enabled real estate agencies. The COVID pandemic has been a boom time. In Mackin’s view, it all makes sense. “We’ve seen a significant increase in the use of Matterport, a tool that enables an immersive 3D home tour with an interactive walkthrough and floorplan. It was once considered a luxury in our industry and it is now becoming a requirement.”
But the need for virtual solutions is just the tip of the iceberg. To Mackin, COVID has simply turbo-charged a pre-existing trend that separates full-time professionals from part-time hobbyists in his industry, and this explains his overall optimism. “Consumers are demanding a personalized experience, and the more you can be of service, the more you can learn about your customer’s needs.” The professionals invest in software, proactive service, and personalization.
With COVID, consumers are demanding virtual tools and responsiveness to their particular concerns, and the more service-oriented agents can deliver the goods. He summarizes, “In order to earn your commission, you’ll have to be more than a glorified Uber-driver that gives someone a tour of a house. The role of the modern real estate agent is to be an expert advisor, not merely a facilitator.”
The transformation of real estate is part of The Great Reboot affecting industry after industry. Rather than seeing the pandemic as a pause between normal periods, forward-thinking businesspeople seem to be jumping on the moment as a time to do major updates of longstanding practices.
Lessons from a Buyer
One real estate agent seizing the opportunity is Caroline Gosselin, of the Gosselin Group at Prominent Properties Sotheby’s in Short Hills, New Jersey. For her, adapting to COVID started with thinking about how the pandemic changed customer demand, or their Jobs to be Done. “Quarantining forced families to re-evaluate what they truly need from their home. It’s not only about his and her closets; there is now a real demand for his and her ‘home offices’ and a yard where the kids can play when parents are on work calls. Space for pools and vegetable gardens are also more of a consideration now.” Starting with what matters most to customers now enabled Gosselin to shift what she emphasizes in her properties and how she delivers that information.
The customer experience has changed as well, although it is a blend of virtual and face-to-face. “At the end of the day home buyers do still want to see the property in person before making an offer. But we’ve become more efficient in now using video calls to handle the more mundane aspects of the transaction. No more commutes and appointments – just a quick Zoom where we can share screens, go over data and analytics, and make some basic decisions.”
She adds that sellers are also using IT tools to limit the number of visitors. “I hope the days are gone that random strangers come into sellers’ homes, traipsing around and letting their kids run and touch things. The pandemic has given us more ‘permission’ to vet buyers. This is the time to chuck out the archaic ways of doing things.”
Virtual tools are not just removing headaches but also speeding the process. Gosselin reports, “We did our first virtual open house on Facebook Live back on April 5, almost at the pandemic’s start, and the house sold to one of the viewers two days later.”
Lessons Beyond Real Estate
As I have documented in other Forbes pieces, the pandemic has presented aggressive businesses with an opportunity. For the firms that can re-think what matters to their customers and how their customers’ experiences can shift, it is a time to seize share while others are hunkered down. As Gosselin says, “Once things start to open up again, our clients will be bombarded with sales and other messaging from competitors. Now is the time to get out there and communicate when there is less noise and people have time to take in our messaging.”
The story of real estate in the pandemic has three lessons far beyond that industry:
· Customer expectations are changing, driven partly by the catalyst of the pandemic as well as other factors. Get on top of those changes fast.
· There is not a trade-off between virtual and higher-touch services. Done right, services can be both more virtual and more personalized, yielding both higher customization and more convenience.
· This is a rare time when customers are open to new messages. Seize the moment to make them aware of how you can respond to their needs in a different way than they’ve typically considered.
The future may not be entirely different and virtual, but it will not be just like the past. Savvy businesses can speed the change and ride the wave moving forward.
Click to access further resources on how businesses are setting the groundwork to thrive during the coronavirus crisis.
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