The End of the Real Estate Agent


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I would bet that if your son or daughter came home from school crying because someone criticized them, you would probably tell them that they shouldn’t be concerned. You might tell them that their value is in what they do and how they act, and not in what others tell them about their actions. And you would be totally correct. We are far better off when we are directed by our inner values and our own needs than when we react to the approval or disapproval of others.

And yet in the real estate business, we seem to be constantly other-directed.

According to freedictionary.com, people that are other-directed are “Directed or guided chiefly by external standards as opposed to one’s own standards or values”. In other words they are busy reacting to the world instead of creating their space and making their mark based on their own values and principals.

In a recent post in the Facebook group “Raise the Bar” started with “Key excerpt: “Zillow allows homeowners and homebuyers the ability to search for homes themselves, and not rely on a realtor to provide information.” Thoughts?”

I read the article, and my first thought was ” Wow – that article takes up space without really providing new information”, but the conversation had started (which was the purpose of the post by the group’s admin Michael McClure after all) – and the course of the conversation was typical –

  • Someone outside the real estate industry with little understanding of the actual mechanics of the industry makes a comment and/or prediction about the industry based on their imperfect perception.
  • Someone in the industry picks up the article or video and shares it because they want to be perceived as a source of valuable information to the industry – or because they are an iconoclast, or a newbie, perhaps to start a conversation in a Facebook group, or maybe because they’re having a bad day.
  • Everyone chimes in, reacting from their particular perspective and hilarity ensues (or tempers flare) .
  • No one learns anything, nothing new is brought forward from the conversation, no changes are made in anyone’s business, and everyone goes back to wait for the next thing to react to so the cycle can begin again.

This conversation was no different. Eventually Michael said “I agree that ZTR are NOT going away. Can the same be said of us?” (though he did add a winking smiley face to ameliorate his statement). He had hit a nerve for me. I replied ” I don’t know about you, but I provide valuable service for my clients and customers and I’m not going away until I decide I want to – at which time the company that I have built will still continue to provide value to consumers.”

Michael was doing his job as admin of the group. He started a conversation and was keeping that conversation moving. And often, conversations can contribute important criticisms , but sadly, oftentimes the conversation just consists of people standing on the sidelines complaining and bemoaning the fate of the industry.

It annoys me that the question of whether the real estate industry is at risk – whether asked irreverently or not – gets asked so often. At conferences, online, in print, everywhere that someone wants to stir the pot or get a reaction. Ad oddly enough, it is often asked by people or publications that are created,nurtured, and fueled by the massive real estate industry whose demise they so eagerly anticipate. Bt it is the reaction of real estate professionals that leads me to ask “Are we so insecure about our value proposition as individuals, companies and an industry that we need to be so instantly reactive to the thoughts of others?”

Though I have been accused of defending the status quo in our industry,I am actually an early adopter of most things related to the industry. I actively seek and embrace change when it helps me run my business better. But I don’t think that change means that the world is ending or our industry is going to explode or even implode. In fact, from my observation, our job has remained the same for the 4 decades I’ve been in the business. How we do it has changed, and frankly I think those of us who are successful in the business are doing more business and making more money in today’s industry rather than less.

Sometimes it seems that online conversations about the real estate industry are a mashup of fairy tales. Chicken Little (The sky is falling) seems to react to every new business model and every effort to dis-intermediate the real estate agent, and the online real estate community reacts by crying “Wolf” (the furry kind, not the former CEO of R.com) – actions that are essentially non-productive.

Being aware of the ideas and thoughts of others is important. We should all read and gather business intelligence. But if we want to analyze changes in the real estate marketplace to determine where the industry is actually going , there are some things we should remember.

Change is inevitable and doesn’t mean you’re extinct. The changes brought about by different business models and technology, has created a high volume, high speed real estate industry in today’s world. Active real estate agents do more things more rapidly than their predecessors. Sometimes they do so much so fast that the very speed of the transactions can cause problems if you aren’t careful. Agents need to respond faster and move through the transaction faster today than they did “back in the day”. This is caused in many cases by consumer expectations, but it creates a need for better risk management, and we are seeing the development of more tools to address that from CRMs and company intranets to document management and transaction management software

Every new idea is a not necessarily a good one. I have been going to NAR conventions for almost 30 years. Each year I would walk the trade show floor and see lots of bright new “shiny objects” each one trumpeting why they had the product that would change the world. The following year I would go back to find that last year’s shiny object hadn’t changed the world, and this year wasn’t even in the game. And over a period of time, you would be amazed at how many old ideas find their way back into the marketplace in a pair of new clothes with little real innovation.

Disruption is overrated – if disruption was a celebrity, you would assume that it had the best publicist ever. everyone talks about, looks for it, and is in awe of it, but we generally don’t even recognize disruption until after is has passed and been integrated into the larger industry. The printing press didn’t destroy calligraphy, movies didn’t replace books and television didn’t destroy movies. Travel agents and stockbrokers still walk among us, even in the world of Kayak, Tripit and eTrade. Worry less about losing your job and more about doing it better.

The best way to avoid obsolescence is to provide a valuable service in whatever it is you do As an agent, and as a property manager, and as the owner of a business, I do pretty much the same things I did when I started doing each of those things. I do them a little differently now, I may use different tools to accomplish my goals, and I may have different efficiencies than I did when I started, but basically what I do has remained the same;

As an agent I assist my sellers to get the highest price and best terms for their properties, and I assist my buyer to get the lowest price and best terms for the properties they purchase.

As a property manager I help my landlords conserve and operate their real estate investments efficiently and safely, providing a good return and helping them to build wealth, while providing clean, safe, and secure housing for their tenants.

As owner of a company, I operate a provide a leads rich and collegial environment where real estate agents can build careers in real estate, while operating a financially stable and profitable company that provides high quality service to the consumers we work with.

New methods, ideas, processes and business models are interesting, and some of them may actually impact the industry, but far more of them will fail than will succeed. They are not what you should spend your time focusing on. Focus on doing your job well to increase your value proposition to your customer, your clients, your colleagues, your company and your associates. Providing value means having value – and that means you’re here for the long haul… No matter what someone else might predict.

What do you think?

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9 comments for “The End of the Real Estate Agent

  1. Saul Klein
    August 1, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Nice work Bill.

  2. August 1, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Thanks Saul. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. August 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Well, there you have it! Another great post Bill. I like to stir the pot and do learn from others. Must be the Irish in me. 🙂

  4. Jacques Merde
    August 1, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    I think you’ve really summed it all up and put a bow on it that will be hard to untie, but before I fall asleep tonight there will be whole armies of those who disagree.
    I see your 30 years of NAR Trade Shows and raise you eight. The best thing I ever got at them was a real cool ladder.
    If you want to see “disrupters” and “shaman” and “snake oil” and, every day, honest-to-goodness earnest people with ideas that will rock our world, I recommend the Inman Real Connect Conferences.
    I love what they tell the 18 year-old kids who join the Marines, complete their training and are sent into combat (where the ammo is live and the consequences are real).
    “Adapt, adjust, overcome”.

  5. August 1, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Nice job Bill.

  6. Miriam Bernstein
    August 2, 2013 at 7:34 am

    I am one of those who agree with this well written piece. Thank you. I just subscribed.

  7. August 2, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Thanks Miriam – appreciate that 🙂

  8. August 2, 2013 at 9:50 am

    One day , if I’m lucky, I’ll do such a good job I’ll get my own hot dog stand…. 🙂

  9. August 2, 2013 at 10:19 am

    until then you are welcome to use mine.

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