Real estate technology adoption principles

In 2004, Inman News profiled e-mortgage processes. In the ensuing years, paperless mortgage processes have improved but have yet to achieve wide agent adoption rates, as do many other real estate technology initiatives (e.g., real estate ecommerce centers). Could this be a classic example of the Technology Acceptance Model theories at work? ( Wiki definition 1, Wiki definition 2, research paper).

Many real estate firms have invested thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, in improving their technology offerings for their agents, only to see these technology investments gather dust as seasoned agents largely ignore–or at least fail to take full advantage of–such offerings in favor of their offline processes. The TAM predicts that a user’s perceived value of a technology resource affects this user’s adoption of this technology.

Assume that a brokerage wants to increase Internet ecommerce center participation and satisfaction rate amongst its agent base. This strategy makes good sense, as most real estate consumers begin their searches online, prefer the Internet experience, and eventually work with a real estate agent.

At its base level, a real estate ecommerce center answers mundane questions, finds out where a consumer is in the buying process, helps the consumer sift through much of the generic real estate information, helps the consumer refine search criteria, and then refers this consumer to a real estate agent. At this point, many brokerages would assume it’s the agent’s business to lose. But is it?

Many agents understand this basic qualification service. And this is where these types of services generally stop…basic. In other words, agents still are doing much of the work with an Internet client, in terms of driving towards a conversion, after this consumer is “handed off” to them. Yet from a brokerage’s perspective it’s doing a great service to its real estate agents by funding, staffing, and managing such a service. As such, there is a mutual perceived lack of usefulness on both parties (the agent thinking it’s less useful than it is, the brokerage thinking it’s more useful than it is).

From the standpoint of the agent, perceived usefulness would likely increase if the brokerage did more qualitative analysis prior to a hand off. For example, at varying points in the qualification process, call center personnel can round-out a client’s profile by either entering in data as they converse with a client, or refer clients to online tools that allow them to provide additional profile information. This data would extend beyond such basics as purchase time-line, preferred home type, newsletter selections, etc, and delve into lifestyle, preferred community attributes, etc.

Additionally, a brokerage could append basic demographic data to its pre-transaction consumer file by either using a reverse append service (Experian and Acxiom offer reverse append services that can attach a postal address to a valid email address) or by keying off the postal address the consumer registered with; regardless as to how a postal address is sourced, a brokerage would then be able to overlay zip code-derived lifestyle / life-stage and other demographic data. This would then allow consumers to choose home-types based on lifestyle (the brokerage’s listings database having been similarly overlaid with lifestyle / life-stage data, which enables this type of matching to occur).

These types of fundamental direct marketing techniques drive towards one goal: to hand the real estate agent a consumer who is well-informed and ready to act. Since the brokerage has tracked all phases of the communication leading up to a hand-off, the brokerage can deliver a profile-based client dossier to the agent who can then take this information and better perform his/her roll as a real estate trusted advisor (i.e., the agent can initially engage the consumer with a knowledge and insight gained as if he/she had actually interviewed the client in depth). Thus, the real estate agent focuses on his/her core competency, which in turn reinforces the usefulness of the brokerage’s ecommerce initiatives and further lowers barriers to adoption.

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