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Op/Ed

The mostly unbuilt future of agent technology: online client collaboration

Online client collaboration is one of the most innovation-starved sectors of the real estate technology industry, but that can change.

real estate collaboration

Online agent-client collaboration, originating inside the MLS, has mostly been stalled since 1998. In that year, MLS systems started providing an area for clients to view agent-saved searches and suggested listings, and to provide listing ratings back to the agent. Since that time, some systems have added minor enhancements, such as built-in messaging and the capability for agents to be able to share documents with the client.

But mostly, it’s been the same story: buyers interacting with agents around listings. CRM software, outside the MLS, has emerged to help clients manage their client relationships. However, CRM has largely been unintegrated with MLS data, and certainly hasn’t been integrated with all the tools agents use every day inside the MLS. For the past few years, I’ve been advocating for technology providers to expand buy-side collaboration and to add something for the people writing the checks that drive everything – the sellers. Of course, these vendors are all customer driven – so it’s up to the brokers and agents to drive innovation.

Note from the Editor: this column was written several months back and was held for publication, which coincidentally is timed with a rising hype surrounding the topic.

Collaborating with buyers

When it comes to collaborating with buyers, agents certainly need to interact online as they do today around listings. But they also need a more robust search and search result content – otherwise it drives the client back to the advertising portals. We need content such as neighborhood info, school info, public records info, and Walkscore. We need enhancements such as neighborhood and lifestyle search. Relevant market trends and statistics for the client search areas (days on market, inventory, list to sell price ratios, etc.) would also be compelling content.

Messaging is also important. We need proper alerting options, including email, text-message, and phone — all key to help ensure agents provide timely response to questions. I’m all for the collaboration portal offering a way for agents to provide documents to their clients, but I think that these documents need to be more collaborative than they are in many systems today.

For example, financial worksheets need to be interactive and provide alerts in both agent and client directions when a new version is created by “cloning” an old version for editing. Open house visit planning, note-taking, and feedback should either be built in or deeply integrated. There’s so much more – this is just a starting point of how agents and buyers could be collaborating. And don’t forget that all of this needs to be mobile-device-friendly.

What do I look for when it comes to agent collaboration with sellers?

Obviously, I look for messaging, open house activity and feedback, seller-oriented market statistics and updates (i.e., new similar listings and price reductions), interactive and collaborative financial worksheets, and an agent activity log – the flip side of the buy-side functionality.

There could be a reverse prospecting tool with “what if” capability – allowing the agent and seller to explore what happens if improvements are made or the price is changed. There can be an interactive marketing plan and materials, including the location of the listing on advertising portals and metrics for advertising effectiveness. One thing I definitely would love to see is the provision of CMAs, AVMs, and associated financial worksheets that allow for easy change and new versions over time as the market and comps change over the life of the listing.

Sellers should also receive alerts as competitive properties come on the market. Again, everything the seller needs to know and all of the service the agent provides the seller needs to be accessible from ONE client collaboration portal.

For both buyer and seller collaboration portals, the site needs to be mobile friendly (of course!). Also, agents should be able to efficiently note in the system that they executed a specific task for a client. Then, later, the agent would be able to point to the created “timeline” and show the client all the work they were doing for them. This would help clients understand the value the agent provided and justify things like renewing a listing agreement and, of course, the commission.

As ex-NAR president Bill Chee once said to me, “The consumer is the lion coming over the hill.” By making our technology systems truly collaborative, agents can improve their service to clients and communicate the value they provide. Improving online client collaboration is something that every agent should be pushing for with his or her MLS or other technology providers.

Written By

Matt Cohen has been with Clareity Consulting for over 17 years, consulting for many of the real estate industry’s top Associations, MLSs, franchises, large brokerages and technology companies. Many clients look to Matt for help with system selection and negotiation. Technology providers look to Matt for assistance with product planning, software design, quality assurance, usability, and information security assessments. Matt has spoken at many industry events, has been published as an author in Stefan Swanepoel’s “Trends” report and many other publications, and has been honored by Inman News, being listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders.

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