Selling real estate for a living stayed much the same for decades.
It is true that the rules about advertising and what a real estate agent could say to customers changed in response to the Americans With Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Rules. More paperwork was required to keep up with things like Buyer Agency and a number of required disclosures.
But the way agents did their job stayed pretty much the same.
They sat in an office and did “floor time,” they placed ads in newspapers and homes magazines, and they offered advice to buyers and sellers one at a time – sometimes via postal mail.
Then along came the Internet and listings began showing up on line. One at a time, real estate agencies bought URL’s and set up their own websites. By 2005 the National Association of Realtors reported that over 70% of all home buyers began their search on line.
Now, the last report I heard said that about 90% of all homebuyers begin looking on line before they ever speak with an agent. And we know that sellers also go on line – searching for that agent who does the most thorough job of marketing his or her listings.
With that in mind, my predictions for the future of real estate sales is that:
1. More and more agents will work from home, refusing to take “floor time.”
2. More information sharing will be done electronically than in person, especially with regard to transactions in progress.
3. The agents and the agencies with the best websites will control the market
4. More and more agencies will close their physical offices
Agents will begin to see floor time as “wasted time” because fewer and fewer people are visiting real estate offices in person. Thus, they’ll choose to work from a home office, where they can schedule their working hours around family responsibilities and where they can be free of “office noise” and interruptions when they need to focus.
Telephone calls can easily be routed to the proper person, and as younger consumers enter the real estate market, more and more will prefer communicating via e-mail and text messaging. Customers and clients won’t need to see an agent until its time to view a home for sale or until it’s time for the agent to see their home before listing it.
With the latest “file sharing” programs, everyone concerned with a transaction can have instant access to information, and will even be able to digitally sign agreements.
But consumers will still want information and will still want to become acquainted with agents before entrusting them with one of the largest financial transactions of their lives.
Thus, the agents and agencies with the best websites will gather the lion’s share of buyers and sellers.
What do I mean by “best websites?”
Those websites that offer solid information that buyers and sellers can use. Not only will they have easy search capabilities, they’ll offer solid advice about buying and selling.
Their virtual home tours will let prospective buyers “see” every room in a home, plus the grounds, the neighborhood, and the view. Important details about taxes, local assessments, and association fees will be disclosed. Room measurements and floor plans will be posted.
In addition, those “best websites” will include agent bios that let consumers feel acquainted with the agents before they call.
Some will incorporate “live chat” and some will make good use of blogs to let their customers in on the latest market information.
With fewer customers and clients walking into real estate offices, it doesn’t make much sense for agencies to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars each month to maintain a physical office. So agency owners will lock up those physical sites and turn to virtual offices – and those offices will probably be open 24 hours a day.
These are merely my predictions, but they’re based on trends I’m already seeing as I talk with my real estate clients across the U.S.