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How real estate technologies are still falling short

Regardless of adoption rates, real estate technologies continue to fall short in one key category, and it isn’t innovation, it’s something simpler.

internet of things

real estate technologies

Real estate technologies and adoption

True or not, real estate agents have a bad rap when it comes to embracing technology. Unless, of course, you count the invention of the Model-T as a recent innovation. You can count on us to traverse the town with you in the passenger seat of our car while we talk about neighborhoods, recent sales, and other bits of market knowledge you might not get anywhere else, but when it comes to using more recent technology, many in the industry are the last ones to do so. Two recent experiences I had with technology might help us all – agents, consumers, and developers – to understand this issue in a new light.

Agents only want to use technology that really, really, really works. It isn’t because we are stupid, lazy, or afraid of change. It’s because our business model supports reliability over innovation. Here’s why: Even for those of us that do a lot of business, the number of clients and contacts is usually in the dozens and hundreds, respectively. The average agent has exactly as many fingers and thumbs as they do sales per year, according to the NAR 2012 Member Profile which found the average number of transactions a Realtor did in 2011 was ten!

Here are two recent examples from my own personal experience that might help everyone explain why real estate agents are often reluctant technology adopters:

Example one: lockboxes

A few weeks ago I was previewing a home on lockbox for some out-of-area clients. We use Supra lockboxes in the bay area, and I recently returned my display key and cradle for the eKey app and bluetooth fob that are compatible with my iPhone. The advantage to the software/fob solution is that I no longer have to dock a separate electronic key, which means I have one less device to forget at home, and one less device to keep plugged in for overnight updates. Seems like a smart move, right? Wrong!

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When I attempted to use my phone/fob combo to open the Suprabox, I recieved a software error message. As a result of the error, the software refused to recognize my account as being in good standing, and refused to open the keybox for me. I Googled the software error message and discovered it could be fixed by logging into the vendor’s website and entering a long randomly generated code I could get from a phone call. But when I logged into the vendor’s website from my phone, it only displayed a mobile version of the site that didn’t have access to the update area where I could fix my problem.

Fortunately for me, my laptop was in my trunk, I have a wifi hotspot, and my clients weren’t with me on this occasion. But if my clients had been with me, I would have been mortified and they would have (rightly) held me responsible for failing to show them the house I had promised I would show them. Lockboxes are amongst the oldest tools in the business, and there is no excuse for buggy software that prevents them from functioning all the time!

Example two: AgentFolio by Zillow

Another example involves AgentFolio, a product from Zillow. I’ve been looking for months for a good tool for collaborating with my buyer clients on their home search. The collaboration and sharing portal built-in to our MLS provider (Rapattoni) is bare-bones embarrassing, and clients that have used it said it reminded them of using a website from the 1990s. And don’t even get me started talking about the bugs that randomly place listings in the wrong client folders on an almost daily basis.

Someone that I have a great deal of respect for suggested AgentFolio as being the best out there, so I signed up for an account to give it a test drive. When I try new technology tools, I need to understand the tool from my client’s perspective, so the first account I always create is a test account with myself as a client. If you are an agent and you’re reading this, that’s the one thing I hope you take away from my article: always be testing. If you can’t use, understand, and explain the tools you are offering to your clients from a client perspective, you shouldn’t be using them. I hope this example helps you understand why…

When I logged into Agentfolio as a client, the exact properties from my “agent created” search showed up in my folio. But the open house times were all off by about five hours. Let me be clear: The agent view showed the correct open house times, but the client view showed open house times that were so far off that if the client showed up during the times listed on the AgentFolio client view, they would have missed the entire open house by hours! Because the open house times showed up correctly in the agent view, I wouldn’t have even known my clients were getting bad information if I hadn’t used a test account. And my clients wouldn’t blame Zillow for writing bad software – they’d hold me responsible for giving them a tool that sent them to open houses at the wrong times.

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But there’s more to the problem

What exacerbates both of these problems is the support offered by the respective companies. Agents work evenings and weekends, but support from almost all technology companies is only offered Monday through Friday usually just during business hours. I didn’t receive a response from Zillow until almost 48 hours after I had submitted the help request, but to their credit, they have said a fix will be rolled out this week.

If you’re an agent: always be testing. Forget what you saw in Glengarry Glen Ross – you aren’t going to close anything if you haven’t first tested the tools that you are relying on.

If you’re a technology company: Recognize that reliability is the most important feature you can offer a real estate agent. And back that reliability up with support hours that are available when we need you most – evenings and weekends.

What are your thoughts about bridging the gap between agents, consumers, and technology companies?

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Written By

Matt Fuller brings decades of experience and industry leadership as co-founder of San Francisco real estate brokerage Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Matt is a Past President of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. He currently serves as a Director for the California Association of Realtors. He currently co-hosts the San Francisco real estate podcast Escrow Out Loud. A recognized SF real estate expert, Matt has made numerous media appearances and published in a variety of media outlets. He’s a father, husband, dog-lover, and crazy exercise enthusiast. When he’s not at work you’re likely to find him at the gym or with his family.



  1. Eric Holmes

    October 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    The technology companies do not look at the real estate industry as an emerging market because we’re not one. As far as I can tell, we’re largely retired teachers in their 50’s. That’s not what you would consider cutting edge. While the rest of the universe covets i0s7 or whatever, we’re still trying to figure out the life alert, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Thank goodness for you and the blogs like agbeat. We’re out there. It feels like a terrible prequel for the V for Vendetta movie, but we’re out there. Hidden. Waiting. Wanting for better, but the tech real estate companies see dollar signs hidden in blue hair, senior citizen discounts and Matlock reruns. It is what it is.

    • Matt Fuller

      October 1, 2013 at 7:07 pm

      I’m not a retired teacher, and I’m not in my 50’s (yet), and until just now I’d forgotten all about Matlock. I hope by the time I’m going into the salon to get my hair “whitened” with a little blue dye I’ll be writing about something other than real estate agents and technology 🙂

  2. JoeLoomer

    October 1, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    You spoke straight to my heart – I work in an area whose MLS is so archaic as to remind me of software I used while flying as a technician in the Navy…… IN 1991!!

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  3. rolandestrada

    October 1, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    You are so dead on. I belong to the Orange County Association of Realtors which contracts with CRMLS. I have railed for years about our pathetic MLS system. We finally got a cross-platfrom MLS in the form of Matrix this year. But the other bolt-on products they offer us as free benefits are pathetic – Homes Connect, Listingbook, Smart Desk.

    These vendors see us coming from a mile away and laugh all the way to the bank. I did some digging and found out the costs and how-to of building a system for us similar to HAR’s solutions. However none of the OCAR or CRMLS hierarchy are willing to listen. We have the money to write our technology ticket but all I have gotten in response is “that’s not possible for us to do”. Which of of course BS.

    It is very possible to do since HAR is already doing it. However the knuckleheads that call the shots seem content to carry on doing the same old thing and flushing money down the toilet by giving it to vendors that give us crap products.

    • Matt Fuller

      October 1, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      There’s a perverse dynamic in the MLS industry – because associations have been fairly successful in negotiating with MLS vendors to pay less per user, the margins MLS vendors have to invest in innovation are also less. I’m not suggesting anyone feel sorry for the MLS vendors, while I have never seen any of their balance sheets I have a hunch they are doing just fine, but sometimes we get the innovation we pay for…

      • rolandestrada

        October 1, 2013 at 7:26 pm

        I’ve been told by an extremely reliable source with whom I had a lengthy conversation, that it would take 6 to 7 months to develop an an iPad app like the one HAR uses for it’s agents and public facing MLS. It would cost about 100K for a finished product. The hurdle in getting to a product like that is lack of truly forward thinking leadership. Our MLS and board leadership tend to just offer us bandaid products instead 21st century high quality solutions. Anything is possible. You just need to hire the right engineers to get the job done. If I had the 100K, I would do it myself.

        • Matt Fuller

          October 2, 2013 at 4:39 pm

          My understanding is that the on-going support and maintenance costs are not insubstantial – I’ve heard some interesting ideas tossed about over the years, but most associations I’m aware of lack the infrastructure to support their users and maintain software across a variety of platforms and software versions, particularly as new devices and software versions are introduced.

          • rolandestrada

            October 3, 2013 at 1:04 am

            Most larger associations like ours can invest the money. It takes about 60K per year to maintain. I’m quite sure we piss away that much ever year on products most people don’t even use. if you code the product correctly like they do in Houston, then you don’t need worry about platforms. Besides there are only two platforms to consider regardless of device – Android and iOS. You have made my point perfectly. All I ever hear is why it can’t be done. It’s just a bunch of BS.

          • Matt Fuller

            October 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm

            I can think of plenty of things associations have spent 60k on that are much less useful than supporting great tools for agents. On that one, we totally agree. I have more thoughts about associations, software products, and MLSs…. stay tuned for more columns and thanks for your thoughtful responses on this one!

        • C.j. Johnson

          October 4, 2013 at 9:12 am

          Just curious are you a member of the MLS Committe at either board/association? I found the best way to effect change is from the inside out. I worked with two Associations and CAR and yes they are very resistant to change but one person can actually make a difference. At one point I even had a word changed in the Real Estate code just because it had a negative connotation for REALTORS.

          • rolandestrada

            October 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm

            Some boards and MLSs thankfully are more willing to change than others. Our board and MLS are not very open to technical progress. I am on our MLS committee. The response I get to developing our own iPad app and IDX as HAR has done is not encouraging at all. Surely Orange County has the same financial resources as does Houston. Sad. Very sad.

  4. CJ Johhnson

    October 2, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I too experienced a SUPRA meltdown on a Saturday afternoon while showing clients which is not only frustrating its down right embarrassing. That is not MLS’s fault it’s SUPRA’s which is why I have a combo box on all my listings as back up (guess old school is not always a bad thing when used properly). On MLS systems and technology, with over 1 Million REALTORS and at least double that in MLS participants nationwide we could afford every bell and whistle we need but Brokerages are stuck in the 1970’s and remain territorial. Just say National MLS to any broker and watch them turn purple. I was on a committee that attempted to make California a Statewide MLS and we were almost tarred and feathered. I admit to being over 50, a 20+ year REALTOR Veteran, and not a retired school teacher, but I did upgrade to iOS7 last week so and old dog can actually be taught new tricks.

    • Matt Fuller

      October 2, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      I honestly don’t understand why a national MLS is so controversial. I never have. I updated to iOS7 too – I have to admit I suddenly feel a bit like the cranky old man yelling “why’d they have to go and change that?” although overall I do like it more than 6…. I’m glad you avoided the tarring and feathering – if you could make one change at the association level to make them better, what would your suggestion be?

  5. Matt Daimler

    October 2, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Matt F and I have been in touch on this, but for anyone else who wanders by (or is an Agentfolio user with questions) we corrected the Open House time issue immediately. Regarding the welcome email, we send it within one hour of the first listing being added, again the next morning and continue to do so as long as there is some folio activity.

    Thousands of agents trust their business to Agentfolio and we’re sorry your first experience has not been top notch. You – and others – are welcome to contact me directly with any questions or concerns: matt AT agentfolio dot com

    • Matt Fuller

      October 3, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      #1 – Kudos to you for reaching out and joining the conversation. I hope that doesn’t sound patronizing, I really do appreciate it. And also thanks for providing a contact – your website makes it very hard to get in touch with anyone. I reported the Open house issue on Saturday, and when I heard back from support on Monday I was told it would be rolled into an update on Wednesday.

      If it was fixed sooner than that, I’m glad to hear it.

      When writing this article, I wanted to pick a company that’s been around forever and a newer company/product – both have support issues, and those reliability issues IMHO go to the heart of why many agents are deeply distrustful of technology.

      Thanks again for getting involved, I appreciate it and respect it!

  6. Matt Fuller

    October 3, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Kent – I absolutely agree with you that agents are the most important link between buyers and sellers, and I’ve written elsewhere about “real estate exceptionalism” so I won’t bore you with it again here. I’m curious what CRM you are using and what MLS you belong to – it sounds like the tools you are using are better than much of what is out there.


    • Kent Wolfe

      October 3, 2013 at 6:59 pm

      Matt~My MLS is Mid Florida Regional, MFR. They include just about everything I need for both mobile and computer but I have to say, the old fashioned email followed by a phone call works very well in most instances. As an “over 50” REALTOR, I get a kick out of reading opinions we’re “over-educated” retired dinosaurs and I certainly don’t take it personally.
      I keep up with the latest, greatest innovation but find most are just another variation on a basic theme. QR codes and talking real estate signs were billed as the best new inventions but really, how many people do they serve? Most buyers already have enough info long before they take a drive past the property and if not, my website and phone number is on every sign.
      Regarding open houses, MFR has that option too but an agent needs to enter the info and quite frankly, very few take the time to do it. It seems we’ve become accustomed to “automatic” everything and losing site of what we really should be doing.
      Thank you for your articles. I’ve found them quite informative.

  7. Matt Fuller

    October 3, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    CJ – You touched on one of my “peeves” which is enforcing and monitoring agent adherence to the code of ethics. What are your experiences around this, and what would you do to put some proverbial teeth in the code of ethics and it’s enforcement at the board level?

    • C.j. Johnson

      October 4, 2013 at 9:07 am

      Mine too. As a long standing member of both Grievance and Professional Standards Committees and a Panelist in hearings there are a few sticky issues I have encountered. First there is the issue of due process to protect those who are being targeted simply because of their business practices or business model as competitors. So we can not rush to judgement. There is also the fear of retaliation in the loss of potential business when one member turns in another member. The fact that the courts mandated entry to the MLS for all licensed brokers means there is also not a level playing field. We can only take action against REALTOR members. I would recommend they put more teeth in the MLS rules to model more of the code of ethics (business ethics are still ethics) and fine heavily. In higher priced areas a $500 fine is looked at as a cost of doing business. Start the fines $5000 and you might get the bad actors attention.

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