Do you care if your agent is tech-savvy?

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Two of our three readers are probably scratching their heads about now wondering what in heck I’m talking about. The third gets it, and he might even have already left the building to do a drive-by. That’s the problem with newer technology; that’s also the beauty of it.  I just lost the majority but I appealed to the minority who spoke this particular language. As for the others, they with find what they need here or in the brochure box.

“What does it matter to me if you’re tech-savvy?” This question was posed by the Notorious Rob Hahn recently as he wore the consumer hat. It’s an interesting posit. I’ll bite.

If you are a home buyer or seller, why do you care? The answer I believe is quite simple and can be tidily broken down to three points.

Marketing

Marketing —  and I’m talking about marketing a property here, not myself and my giant grinning Neighborhood Specialist head – is about reaching the largest audience in the shortest period of time. Marketing a property cannot be exclusionary, because the one guy you exclude, even if he is in the dismally small minority, might have been the dude longing for a home just like yours.

Marketing your home for sale is a numbers game. Open houses? A pathetically low-percentage play. Then why do them? Because there will occasionally be one buyer who trips over our tent sign to find just what he has been looking for. Ditto the other old-school tricks like yard signs, brochure boxes, mailers and print ads.  Technology plays are no different.

Listing feeds, blogs, websites (the thoughtful kind, not the canned “look what I just bought” attempts), online featured home placement, Page One ranking on Google and the like are all little cogs in a bigger exposure wheel. Taken individually, no one tactic amounts to a hill of beans in promoting a home or attracting buyer eyes. Deployed collectively, you’ve got some serious exposure.

Efficiencies

Efficiencies delivered via our techie tools are not simply for the agent; they are not even mostly for the agent, although I do enjoy not being tethered to a fax machine hours on end or sitting at your kitchen table each night at dinner for the duration of your escrow. The ability for buyers and sellers to sign contracts electronically in their jammies or between meetings at the office is a convenience that makes an otherwise stressful and tedious transaction a little less so.

The same can be said for managing files electronically. Easier for me? In many respects, yes. But the transparency and relative ease with which all parties can access documents, schedules, and due dates results in more accountability, less mystery, and better overall service. A real estate transaction should be a partnership between the principals and their agents, and a partnership cannot exist if one side is operating in an unchecked vacuum.

Communication

We like to refer to anything newish as “technology.” OK, fine. But what we are really talking about is a changing vernacular. As agents, we need to both speak your language — on your terms — and we need to understand and use the tools which allow us to be the Pop Tarts that today’s consumer demands.

First, a little about the language barrier. Our world is at a technological crossroad. Real estate (tired mantra alert) is a people business, and people today speak in a variety of tongues. If you walk into a store to buy a latte and find that everyone is speaking Swahili, you may leave with a chi tea or you may leave empty-handed. Either way, the service sucked. And it wasn’t so much that the service was actually bad. It’s just that because of the failure to communicate, you didn’t get what you came for.

The way our clients and, if you are a seller, your potential buyers chose to communicate is a very big mixed bag. They type in the instant chat box, they text their message, they email, they Tweet their questions, and occasionally they even use the speaking device or, as we like to call it, the telephone. If I fail to adapt to all of these media, I will fail at least one client. If I am not fluent in the language of a particular would-be buyer, my seller will have missed an opportunity. In a service industry, this is not acceptable.

Then, there is the little issue of availability. The gentleman who emailed (I know, email is so yesterday!) a question on a listing at 7:30 last night, on a Friday night, did not want a response the next day or even the next hour. If you were the seller of this listing, you cared that my PDA, the one medically fused to my being, delivered the message and that my TiVo allowed me to pause Anderson Cooper’s 24-hour coverage of the Gulf oil spill while I returned his query. That’s what you hired me for.

Today, it’s all about response time. We are an impatient bunch wanting instant gratification. We want our movies on demand, and it’s no different with our real estate. Your agent can’t delivery the speedy service you expect if they are still busy trying to carve the corners off the block to make a wheel.

Rob suggests that technology may be a lot of smoke an mirrors, another chapter in the all-about-us book, where value to the customer is concerned. And if we think about technology only in terms of marketing ourselves and our services, this is true. But it’s not all about us, at least not for the agents and brokers who remember for whom it is they are ultimately doing this work. That part is about you, the customer.

Rob wonders in his post why there isn’t some price difference between the technologically savvy agent and the agent suited up for 1980. After all, technology streamlines the agent’s business. Shouldn’t this result in a lower cost to the consumer? I could argue that technology – testing, deploying, just keeping up – is a full-time job in itself. The larger point, though, is that there is benefit to the customer – enormous benefit. The fact that I am saving on printer cartridges is secondary to the savings my clients realize in time, stress and general aggravation. A couple of fewer tanks of gas a month is immaterial when you consider the greater exposure I give my listings and the better responsiveness I deliver to all my clients.

Our dentist could just as easily extract my daughter’s wisdom teeth with a pair of pliers, but he opts for the best technology available to accomplish the same task. It’s easier for him – a lot less screaming – and she appreciates it as well because it’s a lot less painful. And the guys who host my website are saving a bundle by directing all tech support issues through online “live chat,” but I like it. It saves me the hassle of sitting on hold for an eternity or having to write a letter.

And neither the dentist nor the website host is trying to get me the most money for a half-million dollar commodity. Were they, I would expect them to use all of the tools at their disposal, new-fangled and archaic, to get the job done. That is priceless. Concede this, and the roll-back argument is flawed.

In short, I think it matters.

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