Real estate website technology and engagement

This post on real estate brokerage future and this one on hyper-local targeting are two excellent discussions about the strategic decisions real estate brokers will face over the next few years, especially with the technology side of the equation. I will focus on two salient points from these posts: (1) the ascendancy of broker power relative to agents and agent teams; and (2) the “Human Touch”.

In the first post, the author essentially argues that “Big Brokerage” along with a constellation of boutique firms will emerge dominate over the next few years. Not only is this argument valid in my opinion, but follows the power law principle, which has been proven in many other social, scientific, and natural systems. Interestingly, the author also skims the surface on some historical trends too. Having just finished reading the Rise and Fall of Great Powers, I’m seeing a correlation in the real estate industry to what existed in the late 1600s through early 1800s in Europe, which saw “old” powers atrophy and “new” powers emerge. Many national firms are under distress and, thus, weakened competitively when confronted by attempts at marketshare gains made by rivals (i.e., analogous to the Hapsburg’s loss of power). What may emerge in the near term is a balkanized set of real estate brokerage fiefdoms (all following the power law principle within their own market) but no one true national “winner”. Over time these fiefdoms (or principalities) will begin competing along their borders too, where the brokerages that strategically deploy technology gain advantage (just like the principalities and states that adopted new forms of weaponry won their military campaigns during the afore-mentioned time period).

Which brings me to my second issue the, “Human Touch“. I’ve always argued that real estate is a participation sport. And technology should serve one principal service: get an arms-length positioned consumer in front of an agent as quickly as possible…but it’s the manner by which this occurs that separates effectiveness from mere happenstance.

Many agents despise Internet leads, and sometimes with good reason. Too many “leads” an agent receives are really a waste of time from the agent’s perspective (too many questions, too many meetings, too many emails, not enough transaction); this tends to breed resentment, bitterness, and non-effectiveness. Thus, smart brokerages employ a lead qualification layer operating under a managed care rubric that works with potential clients prior to handing them off to an agent (in my opinion agents by and large are “closers” not “nurture-ers” and their talents are not deployed optimally when called upon to nurture consumers). And it’s in the managed care environment where firms can make the most gains.

Let’s assume an ideal state of technology circumstances for a brokerage principality that wants to gain consumer mindshare (and, thus, marketshare). This brokerage’s website would consist of the following primary entry points for potential (and existing) clients (all very consumer-facing, focusing on consumers’ needs and points-of-view):

  • Tag clouds that demonstrate inventory density demarcated along neighborhood, price, zip code, lifestyle, and home-type attributes
  • Search clouds that demonstrate what consumers have been most interested in within the site
  • Lifestyle-oriented search (which I’ve written about previously)
  • Targeted site elements driven by a Site +1 engine (I have not seen this product work, but will give the company the benefit of the doubt and assume that it works as advertised) that presents relevant imagery, content, property type suggestions, and calls to action that meet the potential client’s assumed demographic/psychographic profile in a predictive sense
  • Map display that presents data in compelling ways (like search cloud data overlaid on a Google map)

Deploying such site elements not only meets consumers expectations at a high level by presenting them with features they are “familiar” with by virtue of visiting other types of websites more frequently than a real estate website, namely sites like Amazon and blogs (my previous post references a Universal McCann study stating that blogs have just as much reach as traditional media). But more importantly a Utopian site like the one I’ve described is geared towards four primary things: not wasting the consumer’s time, presenting them with multiple ways to access information, speaking relevantly to them immediately, and incenting them to contact a “human” as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This type of a site uses engagement-oriented features that compellingly reward a consumer’s time spent on the site by giving them information in a manner that mirrors a “human touch” while actually cross-promoting a “human touch”, rather than penalizing or irritating them with worn, tired, slow, and stale elements. Thus, consumers establish emotional and brand-centric bonds with the brokerage via its website. And when a consumer decides to “reach out” and contact the company, this consumer does so in a more informed and qualified manner, which allows the managed care department to not only engage this consumer at a higher level but transfer a more informed and content consumer to the agent. What’s happened is that “technology” has allowed the consumer–at her leisure–to satiate her information gathering needs in a highly effective and efficient manner, making the site more relevant and trustworthy with respect to her quest, allowed the managed care department to spend less time educating her, and focuses agents’ core competencies on “closing” and transaction management issues; which in the end reinforces the power law principle and propels the marketshare gains the firm seeks.