Innovation in the real estate space continues to change the way agents do business. And the speed at which tech trends emerge is enough to make heads spin. At the very least, it can be paralyzing when deciding which tech to invest in.
That’s why I attended the Realtor Quest conference in Toronto this month, on a mission to uncover some of the latest in real estate technology and trends in order to share some insights and help agents and brokers prepare for what’s just around the corner.
Here are five takeaways from that event, plus four companies I’m keeping my eye on in 2023.
1. Real Estate Businesses Like Compass Are Building Walled Gardens
The idea of a “walled garden,” or a controlled ecosystem of apps and tools, isn’t new in tech. But the idea that the concept is finally taking hold in real estate was one major theme that buzzed around the conference floor in Toronto this year.
Take, for example, Compass’ private exclusive listing program. The company buys homes directly from homesellers, which they can then offer as exclusive listings to people who opt in to be a part of their ecosystem. And those listings never make it to the multiple listing service. They’re exclusive to the Compass site.
Companies such Redfin and OpenDoor rely on similar systems for multiple reasons. First, it allows them to avoid the clear cooperation policies because they actually own the properties. But also, they can offer a one-stop shop for homesellers and buyers, working together from the initial listing to closing on a new home. They never have to leave the proverbial walls of the garden.
It’s compelling for anyone who wants to avoid the hassle of listing, marketing, showing, and then buying a home. Of course, for agents, that idea may be a bit scary. But the truth is, the walled garden model won’t be the right fit for everyone. And as agents, we need to remember that everyone is not our ideal client. This model will work for some buyers and sellers, but there will always be people who want (dare I say need) to work with an agent.
And remember, it’s not like OpenDoor invented FSBOs. They only started building these walled gardens to capture a market that already existed. Not everyone sells their home with the same business model, and there will always be options available.
2. AI Is Not Human & Agents Are Still Essential to Transactions
If you listen to newscasters talking about ChatGPT, you might come to the conclusion that we’ll all be replaced by robots next month. But if you listen to thought leaders in the industry like Mike DelPrete, who served as a keynote speaker at Realtor Quest, you’ll hear them talk about how innovation is making the agent’s job simpler, and that agents are still essential to the transaction. The bottom line is that artificial intelligence can’t talk a client off the ledge in those scary moments that every buyer and seller has.
Simply stated, artificial intelligence (AI) is not human and can’t connect to a person on an emotional level. Any agent in the business for more than five minutes knows that buying or selling a home is an emotional transaction. Humans will feel things that AI can’t. If anyone is worried that AI will take over their jobs, remember that bots don’t have human emotions and have real trouble understanding clients in the way another human can. Humans will always need other humans.
But, if you really want to see how AI can help you accomplish more and free up time to focus on more important things, take ChatGPT for a test run. I played with the image generator and love the results. I generated this image when I typed it “Toronto surrealistic in vivid colors.” The generator will even give you some prompts you can try out.
This image is so vibrant I almost wanted to use it as the featured image. It’s gorg!
But if it gives you something you don’t necessarily prefer, try different prompts and iterations to see if you get something you like. That’s the fun part of working with this new technology: You can tell it to “try again” and you’ll get different results. Keep testing it and learning the technology until you become comfortable using it.
Overall, as AI becomes more integrated with our daily tasks, I’m excited about the possibilities it may offer in the near future.
3. Brokerages Are Recruiting With More Tech (but at What Cost?)
One of the beautiful things I learned from attending Realtor Quest is that agents may be able to shop around it bit more when it comes to choosing a brokerage to work under. In today’s post-pandemic market, we all know attrition is going to happen. In fact, it may already be happening in some markets. But brokers who are on top of the trends are recruiting hard for quality talent. And they’re willing to pay for it.
It seems brokers have finally figured out that offering tons of tech tools to help agents get their businesses up and running quickly and easily makes them more attractive. If my observations from the conference hold true, I expect to see forward-thinking brokerages investing in tech-based recruiting.
But a word to the wise for all agents who are shopping around: It’s essential to pay attention to commission splits too. A brokerage’s pretty, shiny tech could just be a smokescreen for an outrageously small share of commissions. We at The Close always recommend spending a substantial amount of time researching and interviewing brokerages before hanging your hat with any one of them.
4. Startups Are Creating ‘Built-to-Sell’ Solutions
Another interesting takeaway from Realtor Quest was the number of booths featuring brand-new tech that isn’t even ready for the open market yet. It was pretty obvious (at least, to me) that many of these quickly built companies were going the “built to sell” route with hopes of getting acquired by larger companies.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen a trend toward all-in-one software companies that strive to give an agent everything they need to run their business on one single platform (similar to the garden wall approach to software development I noted above). As an agent, that’s attractive, and these businesses know that. So, they’re scooping up small startups with great ideas to integrate into their bigger platforms.
If, like many agents, you’re a bit overwhelmed by all the innovation in tech and how fast it’s evolving, this is the trend for you. When larger companies buy up different built-to-sell startups, that will translate to more features in a single platform. An agent can begin their career with their favorite tools and scale it from there without ever having to switch up their software providers.
Having said that, I also see how that could threaten efficient standalone platforms. Some of my favorite tools, like Follow Up Boss, provide stellar service because they only focus on one thing. If being an exceptional customer relationship management platform isn’t enough for Follow Up Boss to compete, they may need to change their existing model in order to stay relevant.
Look for standalone platforms to partner with other companies to offer more services as this trend continues. And if you’ve been using a variety of tools for a few years, you might start to shop around to see what other platforms are offering. You may be missing out on some amazing, innovative packages or even overpaying because you’re working with an outdated Frankenstein setup. (Don’t feel bad. I’ve been there, too.)
5. Innovation Is Here to Stay
My biggest takeaway from this conference is that innovation isn’t slowing down. In fact, it’s gaining momentum. For me, this is an exciting time where technologies are creating new and interesting ways for agents and brokers to conduct their businesses, allowing them to free up time from minutiae and streamline productivity. It’s thrilling to witness this moment in our industry’s history.
I can still remember a time when the world was transitioning to the internet. My mom was one who didn’t want to embrace computers in the workplace. My parents owned an auto parts store and every time someone ordered a part, she had to look it up in a physical Chilton manual. Other stores were adding databases on computers but she held tight to her old method. They ended up closing the store.
If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of tech there is to learn, you’re not alone. Even I, someone who embraces technology and loves learning about all the cool tools, feel overcome by the sheer amount of what’s available. There is help. I encourage you to explore YouTube for some things, but you can also explore Craig Grant’s site, RETI.com, which specializes in teaching real estate technology to agents and brokers.
I have attended a few of Craig’s classes at my local association and even watched some of his online seminars to learn more about YouTube, CRMs, and Canva. He’s currently making the rounds to teach agents how to use ChatGPT in their real estate businesses.
Don’t be my mom. Be innovative. Continue to be curious and seek tools to help you focus on the most important part of your business—your clients. Chatting with Chris Linsell, a former senior strategist at The Close who also attended the conference, after the event, I think he said it best: These tech tools are going to take over the everyday mundane tasks that take agents away from the reason they got into real estate in the first place—their why. With these new tools, agents can focus on those whys, the service they provide their clients, and how to be the best agent as humanly possible.
Companies to Watch
In addition to soaking up the latest real estate tech trends, I also scoured the expo floor to bring you the most interesting and promising companies at Realtor Quest this year. Here are four that caught my attention.
1. Agent iChat (+ Other Advancements in Lead Gen Tech)
Agent iChat is a fun tool makes full use of artificial intelligence chatbots together with live assistants to help agents convert incoming leads. And it increases speed-to-lead time by automatically answering prospects’ inquiries when they come in, increasing conversion rates. The chatbot learns and adapts to each lead’s needs as it carries on the conversation.
According to Ashoka Chakravarthi Kola, co-founder of Agent iChat, “Real estate chat solutions are either using AI or live chat. Agent iChat is the only real estate chatbot to use both AI and live chat functionality to assist homebuyers and sellers online.”
The great thing about Agent iChat is that it integrates with lead generation and customer relationship management systems you may already be using, like Agent Locator, iNCOM, IXACT Contact, Follow Up Boss, kvCORE, Mailchimp, Market Leader, and more.
In fact, we also visited with REALQualified, a real estate lead qualifying company that’s using a similar tactic in a different way, at the conference. They employ predictive analytics to find potential sellers in a specific market. Then, actual humans make the initial contact, provide information, and schedule appointments. They’re essentially your inside sales team.
I think both these companies offer good examples of how to use emerging technology in real estate at the moment. I’m sure there will be other exciting use cases, but right now, these are excellent examples of how AI and big data can enhance real estate lead acquisition. I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on this trend in the coming months.
Openn represents a radical idea in the real estate industry, especially in the U.S. It’s a new technology that aims to bring complete transparency to transactions. It’s not currently available in the U.S., but plans to bring it south are in the works as it’s currently being rolled out in the Canadian market.
The way it works is, once an agent has a listing, any offers on that listing can live inside the platform where anyone can view them. So, if a listing receives multiple offers, the listing agent can show those offers to their clients inside the platform, along with a ranking of offer quality via the company’s algorithm.
But in addition to the seller, buyer’s agents can also see the offers and where their client’s offer ranks. Then if that buyer would like to make a change to their offer, they can try to outrank the competition.
I asked if there was a way to turn off the visibility so buyer’s agents can’t see what the seller’s agent is holding (you know, sometimes you don’t want to share that information), and there is. If the listing agent doesn’t want to share the other offers on the table, it’s as easy as clicking a button to turn off the visibility.
According to representatives I spoke with on the expo floor, the platform has seen a lot of success in Australia, where this company is based. This is their first foray into the North American market.
As a real estate agent, I never thought about sharing offers with other agents. It seems like it could escalate bidding wars if not worked carefully. But at the same time, it could also give insight into escalations that will save time for those who don’t have the means to outbid competitors. We’ll keep our eyes on this one as it makes its way into the U.S. market via pilot programs.
At a time when real estate investing is growing, Assignmate is a company that found a niche with very little tech and jumped on it. The company collaborates with new homebuilders to help sell homes in the pre-construction phase. Investors who buy early plats hold them for a couple of years until closer to completion of the project when they resell, or assign, contracts to homebuyers at a profit.
The idea is that construction can move along at a faster pace if homebuilders can secure more funding through early investors. The Assignmate platform provides a place to offload those contracts easily, making the process smoother for investors.
As both an agent in Florida (where new-home construction is a major part of the landscape) and a buyer currently under contract to build a new home, I’m intrigued by this additional avenue for real estate investment. But the most exciting part to me is that, as new ways for investors to get into the real estate game emerge, financial gains will become more accessible to everyday investors, not just the top players.
4. iNCOM Real Estate
Of course, iNCOM isn’t new; you can read our review of the company, which we identified as our budget pick for real estate website builders, here. However, there’s one new element of iNCOM’s offerings that is interesting and worth mentioning. The company added an alert for you and your leads when prices drop on a listing. That keeps your house hunters fully engaged on your platform instead of jumping over to Zillow or Trulia. Giving buyers access to recently reduced listings keeps your leads on your platform and creates a fantastic “in” to start a conversation.
What about you? Are there any cool tech trends that you’re watching? What are your takeaways from all the cool technologies in the real estate industry right now? How are you feeling about the breakneck pace of innovation in the space? I’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments. Let’s keep this conversation going.