“We are a tech based brokerage”
The newest buzz phrase slash catch phrase in the real estate industry is “technology based brokerage” or “real estate tech startup.” I’m seeing this more and more in email signatures, on real estate websites, on Twitter bios and the like. I want to talk today about what is and what isn’t a technology based brokerage in an effort to kill this new fallacy of the “tech based brokerage” that is sweeping the nation faster than BP is leaking oil into Gulf waters. First of all, there is nothing wrong with being excited that your company now has an iPhone app and that everyone uses email and owns a computer, but just because your office printer doesn’t use paper with little round holes up the side doesn’t make you a tech brokerage.
What qualifies as a true “tech based brokerage”?
I should pause at this moment to note that skimmers and broker cheerleaders have already skipped to the comments section to talk about how tech savvy they are and how wonderful and supportive their brokerage is and how THEY truly are number one. I point this out because the inherent flaw in the real estate industry has always been one-upsmanship-itis, me-too-osis and/or i’m-the-number-one-top-everything-epsy. I think it’s actually a course taught in real estate school that attempts to help agents to swim instead of sink, but I digress…
In a recent offline study, we asked real estate professionals to rank their expertise in technology on a scale of one (not tech savvy) to five (tech expert) and 100% ranked themselves a four or five. That’s 100% of agents studied that consider themselves tech experts but we knew for a fact that only one of the people studied knew any coding languages or could create something on their own. I know a lot of technologists that would gasp with frustration that an entire industry finds themselves to be on their level.
As an industry, there is confusion between being able to market online and being “tech based.” If your brokerage is using email, Facebook and Twitter and saying that constitutes as “tech based,” then Houston, we have a problem. If your brokerage is developing mapping technologies independent of what any association or third party aggregator does, or your company is creating an augmented reality application for mobile home seekers, or if your brokerage is finding a unique way to automate the documents process then we have a starting place. But if your big box broker came out with an iPhone app and your team is still using the Treo 600, then we have a major disconnect.
There is a big difference between saying “our brokerage uses online marketing” versus “our brokerage is technology based” but the study participants didn’t differentiate, but simply called themselves experts.
Hypothetically, let’s say I come across a plumber with a blog and I can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook and heck, I can even chat with him on his website which is connected to his phone so he can still be floating the river with his kiddos while connecting with me. He calls himself the “tech based plumber” because of how “tech savvy” he is. But when I connect with him, I ask him about the exciting new technologies he’s using in plumbing and he tells me that it’s a set of skills he has fine tuned over 23 years. I ask if there are any new techie tools that can like scan an underground pipe for blockage or if there’s a chip he can put in a septic system to read levels and alert him? He says no, that plumbing isn’t as technologically based as I’m thinking and that robots are not here yet, etc. But I walk away frustrated because I was under the opposite impression based on him marketing himself as a “tech based plumber.”
“But I’m on the Twitter!!!”
Brokerages are feeling like they are innovative because they entice consumers online and have a sexy Facebook page and even are on “the Twitter,” but internet marketing is not innovative, it’s common sense. My plumber should be marketing online, as should you, as have many for a decade or more now, but if your company isn’t truly innovating or carving out new ways to develop tech tools for the process, it can’t be called a “tech based brokerage.”
Brokerages, you don’t have to apologize and make up for lost time just because you weren’t on Twitter first or because you didn’t have a blog until 2009 or even that you didn’t have a non-template website until 2008. You are not technologists, you’re real estate professionals and the world expects you to be a real estate expert, not a technology expert. This is the same as my expectations on my plumber to fix the major leak in my kitchen, not sit at home and code a phone application that helps me diagnose leaks myself- I don’t need a diagnosis, I can SEE that this place is flooded, just fix the damn thing.
I would argue that Redfin (who I’m openly not a huge fan of) is one of the only truly tech based brokerages out there, like it or not. You may hate their business model, but they have in house developers that are creating new ways to change how people search, and they’re willing to test out and invent new ways of interacting, whereas most brokerages adopt a shiny new tool like an iPhone app that was developed on an open source platform and is nothing more than a duplicate of every other real estate app but with their logo slapped on top of it.
So please, if your brokerage is not innovating anything or actually creating technologies (and by creating, I don’t mean hiring a college kid to put your logo on an existing app), you’re not a “tech based brokerage,” you’re a brokerage that uses online marketing and you don’t owe anyone an apology for not being “tech based” …unless you continue use of the phrase illegitimately.