What about the real estate agent today? Where does he stand? What is his role within the industry? What services does he provide? Is he becoming obsolete? Will he be replaced through technology? Do we need him? Do we want him?
I could go on with a list of questions about the status of the real estate agent within the real estate industry, but what is more than obvious is that the real estate agent is at a crossroads like never before.
On one side, we hear the argument that technology will replace her/him, even faster than what we expect, like it’s just a matter of time before there is no real estate agent. There are also those arguing that you should have one, but that they, the real estate agents, are there just for the commission and not all that much more. But there are also those who swear by their real estate agent, who believe that they have the best agent out there and that the agent has earned every single cent of their commission.
Can all of this be true at the same time? What is true and what isn’t? Where do we go from here?
Let’s be honest. Not everybody likes real estate agents, nor do they trust them. There are those agents that do give the profession a bad name. There are many of those, but the good real estate agent, the professional, the one doing an honest job, is also responsible for the bad perception of the agent.
Let me start with a few more questions. What is the role of the agent? What services do they provide? We don’t talk about this enough and the buyers and sellers out there do not really have a good idea as to what is the service that the agent provides. This is our fault, it is the fault of all of us, the real estate agents, who do not promote our profession enough. It’s up to us to change the perception about us and there are enough of us who are putting in an honest day’s work to do this.
Let’s take this one step further. What is the service that we are providing? This is one of the keys to our profession. What is it that we do? If we want to do self-promotion, then what exactly are we promoting?
I remember well, when I was taking my broker’s exam, the chairman of the exam team said to me, complaining in a way, about how little is spoken about the service that a real estate agent offers. There is always talk about the fee, the MLS, but very little, if anything, about the service. That has stayed with me to this day and I find that, more-true, as each day passes.
Do we want to be salesmen? Is that what a real estate agent is? Even worse, are we there just to show the property? Is that how we want to be seen? I doubt it, but that is how we are sometimes perceived. Let’s not be fooled, our clients very often think that we do not deserve our commission. They are not all that sure what it was that we did to deserve it. What did we do exactly, during that time? They realize that it is either required by law, or because the agent is the one listing the property that they have to work with us, but they would probably be just as satisfied if we were not there.
But think about this. Buying a home, just may be one of the most important financial decisions that someone makes in their lifetime, and that person, sometimes, does not want an agent. This really reflects on us and the perception of a real estate agent as someone who is there because they have to and is there so that she/he could get their commission. They just may be able to help the client, a little bit, but not that often and that much. Like it or not, that is where we stand today.
To me, that is what we, the real estate agents, have to change, and change it as soon as possible. It’s ridiculous that with such an important decision, regarding the purchase of a property, the buyer or seller would even think about doing it without the real estate agent. For this, we are at fault and we have to change it. We have to prove that we are an important part of this process and that our services are of the utmost importance.
This brings us to a very interesting prospect. Should we still be just real estate agents, or should we aspire to more? There are companies that gave this some thought. They wanted to call their real estate agents Neighborhood Specialists, Sales Consultants, and so on. They even started out doing just that. I don’t know the specifics of what happened, but they all gave up on that idea, maybe for the better, I don’t know, but what I do know is that they did realize that, just maybe, the day is coming when the real estate agent has to become something even more.
This is what I truly believe is what can solve the problem and bring back the real estate agent and make them an important part of the equation in the sales of a property, someone without whom this process would not be complete. But now, we are not talking about the real estate agent as a salesperson or someone who just shows the property. We are talking about the real estate agent as a professional. A well respected, knowledgeable professional. Call them what you want, but their role is now clearly defined as with any other professional out there.
I like to think of the real estate agent as a real estate consultant, because that is what I feel they should be. A consultant is someone with whom the buyer or seller should be able to consult with, to ask for advice, to discuss various issues regarding the property. It’s not just a “show me the property and I will buy it” operation. It has to be more than that. It’s an important decision that the buyer is making and it is only natural that he should consult on this with a professional, which is what the agent should be.
Call the real estate agent whatever you want, what is important is the service that they provide and not the name.
Are we, the agents, ready to take this next step? To go from agent to consultant. I don’t think so. There are agents out there that are doing just that, consulting buyers and sellers, but when looking at the majority of the agents, I just don’t believe that they are ready for this. How many times have I heard an agent say, when asked a question, “here is the link to that”? Are real estate agents link masters? Is the quality of an agent measured by the number of links they have? Or by the speed at which they can find a link? I hope not, yet I have often come upon this situation.
I was looking to rent some office space and set up a viewing of a property with the leasing agent. I got there, he started to show me the property and then, unfortunately, he started to speak about the property. It didn’t take me more than a few minutes to get fed up with the total lack of knowledge that the agent had. He had no idea what he was talking about. I got the impression that he was just doing this because he had nothing better to do with his life and thought he could make an easy buck selling real estate. I have nothing against that, but at least learn something about the profession. And you tell me, is that agent ready to be a consultant?
In the end, I not so politely asked him to be quiet. I assured him that if I leased the property, he would get his commission, but just be quiet. I am not saying that all agents are like him, but there are those agents who have no idea, or very little, regarding what they are doing. It is those agents that give the really good agents, the consultants, a bad name.
It’s time that we differentiate between good agents and bad agents, it’s time that agents become consultants. The only way to do this is through education, there is no other way. Real estate agents aren’t born, they work, they study, they learn, to become agents. It’s not like all agents are bad agents or have no idea of what they are doing. But they do exist and probably more than we would like to admit.
There is the saying that solving a problem begins with admitting that a problem exists. I couldn’t agree with this more. There is a problem, are real estate agents willing to admit this is the question. It’s hard to say whether they are or not.
But let’s look at it from another point of view. If we want to be better agents, then we have to learn to be better agents. If we want to make more money, than we have to become better agents, with better knowledge, experience and capabilities. That makes sense and that is what most agents want. Good or bad, that is the ultimate goal. Nothing wrong with that, we all want to make money. Let’s just use that point of view to become better agents, thus we solve that problem mentioned above.
The thing is that it doesn’t take all that much for an agent to become a better agent, to take that step to become a consultant, which is what we have to become if we want to survive, but more about that a little later. All it takes is education and a system, nothing more. And this is something that almost any agent can do, if they want to. But it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention again that there are agents already at this level, providing a good service and making money.
Systems, one of my favorite words. By system, I surely don’t mean ABC, Always Be Closing. I mean that there has to be a planned system for the agent to work in. If, at this point, we can agree that an agent is not a salesman or someone who shows the property, then we can discuss a system.
A system has to guarantee that our client is always getting the best possible service. A system has to guarantee that the service that is provided to one is provided to all. Not all agents can or should work in the same way. There are many differences in all of us: cultural, social, psychological, etc. We can’t expect that an agent in the US works in the same way as an agent does in Europe, but what we can expect is that each agent has a set of rules and procedures that they always use. We can expect that each agent has a certain level of knowledge. We can expect that each agent has an understanding of the market and an understanding of their client. We can expect that each agent has a certain level of capabilities and we can expect that every agent can connect us to the exact property that we are looking for. This is what a system provides. No matter how different it is, it has to have the same basic principles so that the system provides the necessary service.
The question that has to be asked is how many agents out there, work within a system. Probably a lot less than what we think or would like to admit. By the way, just because an agent works for a franchise, or under a large brokerage, does not mean that they are working in a system. Don’t get caught with the idea that a big name guarantees quality.
In the end, we have to talk about technology. We have to start using technology before it uses us. If we don’t do this, then there will be no real estate agent. That is the plain and simple truth, like it or not.
We hear all this talk about AI, how it will replace humans, we can even hear how it will replace the real estate agent. We have seen these start-ups saying that there is no need for the real estate agent. So where does this leave the real estate agent?
I have to go back to what I mentioned earlier. Buying real estate is probably one of the most important decisions people make in their lifetime. And we are supposed to leave that to the machines. I don’t buy that, not the least bit. It’s just too important to leave to a machine. But if we don’t want anybody to even think that machines can do this, then the agent has to provide a service that a machine can’t. This brings us back to the idea that the agent has to become a consultant if they want to survive. But to do this, we need technology, we can’t do it, in today’s world, without technology. That’s the catch. To make sure that technology doesn’t take over the real estate business, we need that technology. So, we have to start using technology before it uses us.
By technology, we are not talking about having a contract ready on a tablet, to be signed, we are talking about using technology to be more efficient, to have access to more knowledge, to provide that knowledge to our clients, in the end, to provide a better service to our client, to help them easily find that perfect property they are looking for. That is what we use the technology for.
There are a few start-ups offering to sell real estate without the agent. None of them have been able to get a large share of the market, but that can change, if we don’t change. What really bothers me is that the idea exists that we don’t need the agent any more, that technology can replace him. We even have machines answering questions. I even read that the machine, the AI, has a better understanding of what our clients need, a better understanding than we have. This is our fault and nobody else’s. We have let this idea come into play, simply because we have lost the faith of our clients, because some, not all, but many agents, have not been providing the service that our clients need. If that hadn’t happened, we probably wouldn’t be talking about technology taking over the real estate industry. But that did happen and we are talking about it.
The fact that these start-ups still haven’t cornered the market tells us a lot. It tells us that there still is a need for the real estate agent, but acting as a consultant. If that weren’t the case, then they would have cornered the market.
The technology that we need to use will take on many forms. From CRMs specially designed for the real estate industry, to technology to analyze the market, and especially technology that will let us market the real estate in a much more effective way. It’s going to take on forms that even we don’t know about today, but let’s just start using it and see where we can go with it, the possibilities are endless.
I have always said that technology provides us with the “what of real estate”, but it takes the real estate consultant to tell us the “why of real estate”. I still stand by those words, now even more than ever.