Every Industry Is Facing Disruption of Some Kind. How About Real Estate?

I just finished reading a white paper by the founder of Dotloop (part of Zillow Group) with the catchy title, “The End of the Traditional Real Estate Brokerage.”

The premise of the document is that unless a brokerage adopts that company’s “end-to-end collaborative platform,” it is destined to fail.  Hmm…. Is my successful brokerage, Golden Real Estate, destined to fail?

Basically, the argument is that mobile and digital technology is disrupting every industry and is also disrupting real estate.

“Disrupting,” however, implies winners and losers. I prefer to say that technology is revolutionizing real estate (as indeed every industry), but I see no end to Golden  Real Estate as a small, some say “boutique,” brokerage.

In my two decades as a Realtor (i.e., a member of the National Association of Realtors, not merely a licensed real estate professional), I have seen major transformation of the technologies, tools and software made available to brokers.

When I first got my license and joined the West Office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Lakewood, we wrote our contracts on 3-ply NCR forms created for each of the many documents required in a real estate transaction. We used typewriters to complete them, or pressed firm with ballpoint pens.

Nowadays, virtually every agent uses on-line contracts. In our market, CTM eContracts is dominant in providing these contracts, and the integration of documents by agents on both sides of every transaction is impressive and… revolutionary. We love it!

Occasionally I will received a contract from an out-of-area agent, as I did just last week on one of my listings, that is not on CTM and uses a third-party e-signature program, DocuSign, for signing each document. (CTM has e-signature capability built into it, and it works great.)

Showing service technology has also evolved beautifully. The near-universal vendor in our market is ShowingTime, and it’s great how they have simplified the process of setting multiple showings, with well-timed route planning and management of feedback requests.

REcolorado, the Denver MLS, is introducing a replacement showing service called BrokerBay, which will have some further enhancements (and be included in our MLS fees), but it will have to be spectacular to be better than ShowingTime.

The MLS itself has been radically improved in the quarter century since it became web-based, and, as with their showing service proposal, continues to do the heavy lifting for us brokerages so that we have only the task of learning new ways of operating.

Despite these changes, I don’t think the in-person model of working with buyers and sellers is up for displacement, merely rapid and ongoing improvement.

Today’s Technology Is What Allows Real Estate to Keep Functioning

The practice of real estate has come a long way from the days when homes were only listed in books the size of a big-city telephone directory. (You do remember telephone directories, don’t you?)

Back then life was simpler, but that depends on how you define “simpler.” Purchase contracts were one or two pages instead of 20 pages, and they had to be hand delivered, as did subsequent documents such as inspection and appraisal objections. Mortgage applications and information was all faxed, if not delivered in person.

Actually, life is simpler today. All documents are typically emailed back and forth and signed electronically, except for closing (which has to be done in front of a Notary). 

As you know, homes for sale can now be searched and viewed online. An in-person showing or two is common before submitting an offer, but not always necessary. Because our narrated video tours are just like an in-person showing, led by the listing agent, I’ve had out-of-state or even foreign buyers ask me to create a purchase contract, knowing that they can always terminate (which they haven’t) when they fly in for the home inspection. Here’s an example of one of our current video tours:

Example of a Golden Real Estate narrated video tour – 1957 S. Taft St. – Listed last week

Facetime is also a great tool for showing homes. When one of our own buyers from out of state expresses interest in a home which they learned about from an MLS email alert — another new technology tool — our agent will use Facetime or take our video camera and do a narrated walk through of that listing (because the listing agent did not create such a tour), and post it on YouTube as a private or unlisted video, and send a link for it to the buyer. 

Zoom came along just in time for COVID-19, replacing GoToMeeting as the “go to” software for virtual meetings.  A classmate from long ago sent me a link for a virtual 6-person band performance of an adaptation of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” cut, with COVID-19 lyrics. What a hoot!

Even this column is made possible by technology that wasn’t available when I was a newspaper publisher. I create it on my laptop using MS Publisher, create a PDF of it, and send it to the newspaper on deadline, which is two days before you see it in print.  Then I post it on this blog, which has hundreds of subscribers, and email it to 900 people who have chosen to receive it by email because they no longer subscribe to a printed newspaper.

Of course, this newspaper, like most, is also available in a “digital replica edition” on its website, which reaches even more readers. I love technology and how it has made life simpler!