Charlie and I recently had coffee with my good friend Rick Sharga whom I admire and had long wanted to see again, but our busy lives got in the way of getting together. Rick is one of those rare gems who is brilliant, achingly funny in a deadpan, understated sort of way, while still super humble. He’s also able to assimilate massive quantities of data and sort it out, to make sense of what may otherwise seem incomprehensible or at best not at all cohesive.
This skill set is certainly why he was instrumental in getting RealtyTrac on the map, back when real estate foreclosure data was growing in importance and becoming a marketable commodity for consumers and real estate professionals alike. With his help, RealtyTrac fast became the “go to” resource for US foreclosure data and I saw Rick’s interviews on CNN, in the Wall Street Journal and everywhere else I turned. Now Rick works for Ten-X (formerly known as Auction.com) where they are pioneering more technology to further streamline the home buying and selling process. Good stuff.
All of this said, it’s clear that I respect Rick’s opinions and that he has pretty deep insight into residential real estate. So imagine my surprise when I found us on opposite sides of the debate about whether or not Realtors are the next dinosaurs lumbering toward our inevitable extinction. He was convinced that everything we agents do will be automated with technology and made both more cost and time efficient for buyers and sellers alike. In essence he seemed to think that agents will be reduced to little more than taxi drivers who take buyers to see homes that they have elected to see without our unnecessary intervention. In fact, he even had the nerve to state that we have “been overpaid for a very long time” for what little we do.
Really?! I was indignant. And love him or not, I had to share my opinion that while he is right, many real estate “professionals” are far from professional, and that many folks in our line of work probably are overpaid given their lack of understanding of, and/or plain unwillingness to do the work that real estate sales truly entails. But there are loads of us who actually have dedicated ourselves to understanding our industry and the mind numbingly numerous details that accompany buying or selling a home these days. In order to truly succeed, we must know national, regional and local market statistics, school data, buyer proclivities, sellers’ “hot buttons”; we must be social workers, interior designers and stagers, professional photographers, masters of web and mobile device technology and advertising, be aware of current and past construction materials that may be harmful to humans and pets, know all legal contracts and disclosures intimately, and on and on and on…
“How,” I demanded of him “would my 78 year old partially disabled client who needs to sell his home (which incidentally was filled with 40 years of detritus) benefit from this new platform without my help? Who would sit with him and patiently explain the sales process, including all the legal disclosures? Who would pay the $4,000 that I have shelled out in advance to transform his home into something that the public at large would be willing to pay top dollar to own? He needed help with making minor repairs, touching up paint, removing distractingly dated fixtures and furnishings, packing and storing (literally 100+ boxes) of personal effects and having another 1/2 ton of home and yard waste hauled away. Then there was the staging that I added – at no cost to the client. All of this was necessary in order to get the best possible professional photos (also prepaid by me) so that his home will stand out on-line. Yes, ultimately technology does take over.
Who, in this virtual techno-utopia that is coming would be there to guide this poor man away from charlatans who would pounce on him, shaking him down for thousands more dollars for “necessary” repairs and improvements to his home? A lot goes into preparing a home for effective marketing before a listing hits the internet. Magic mice don’t just appear to transform a family home into as close to a model home as possible, in order to get the highest price possible for the selling client.
Yes, I totally embrace that Ten-X is creating a virtual platform where sellers can post their homes for sale and buyers (both with or without agents) can tender offers that will immediately be visible to the seller, their agent, and anyone else who has been granted permission. That’s fabulous! What an amazing time saver. And it will eliminate the questions that lurk in everyone’s minds about whether an offer was really delivered to the seller, whether there truly were multiple competing buyers, and whether sellers truly did get to see all offers that came in? It is a brilliant platform; I have already signed up for it. (It’s not available in my area yet.)
However, to presume this technology will replace us the “overpaid” real estate professionals is just plain silly. “My job,” I explained to Rick “is to be a consultant to my clients. I am there to educate them, about the current marketplace, about their buyer or seller competition, about how to navigate past the inevitable ego and often questionable skill set of the agent on the other side. Who, like it or not, is the gatekeeper for the buyer or seller we seek to engage in contract.”
As Daniel Pink so brilliantly details in his books, technology is changing the way EVERYTHING is sold. Certainly we must all adapt to this change in order to survive. Per Pink, we are no longer actually “selling” anything and haven’t been for years. I know I help my clients to market their homes to their best advantage once they have already decided to sell. And I help my buyers negotiate as intelligently as possible, while ensuring they have every protection in place that they’ve decided they want. All of this happens after extensive consultation and discussion about what each individual wants their own outcome to be. I don’t talk anyone into buying or selling a home. That would be ridiculous. Just like a divorce attorney doesn’t convince a couple to go their separate ways, instead advising them how best to go about the process once they have already made their decision, I advise clients who have decided to make a real estate investment or divestment. I am a real estate advisor.
Tell me what other professional is willing to pay out of his or her own pocket to get someone else’s goals met, work tirelessly for weeks or months to push the transaction over the finish line and only then finally get paid? I’d love to see how many attorneys, doctors, accountants or even dog walkers would work now for payment later!
Yes, our industry is flawed – very flawed. Yes, there are crooks looking to make a fast buck on unsuspecting home buyers and sellers. And yes, there is need for far greater transparency in the real estate sales process. And when Ten-X gets their platform up and running I believe it will be an important part of this change. And when that happens, I will be even busier managing my real estate “practice”, advising clients who are referred to me every day because they value a seasoned advisor who is willing to help them make the best decisions they possibly can.
I like to think that Rick agreed with me. We’ll have to see.