Shift Happens. Developing Technology For The Future of Digital Marketing in Real Estate
In late 2008 the American economy was shaken by the crash of one of its pillars, the housing market. The post bubble bursting landscape yielded radically different market conditions that demand more business efficacy and information transparency from the real estate industry. As necessity is the mother of innovation/invention, there has been a fundamental business model shift towards Broker Centric models and away from the Agent Centric models that dominated real estate for 20+ years. Those technologies that enable such a shift cannot be kept quiet.
In an ironic twist of naming conventions, an ‘Agent Team’ employs a very Broker Centric model. Click here for additional context on Agent and Broker Centricism (yes, I make up new words all the time):
For this article’s purpose the term ‘Agent Team’ means a group of individuals who specialize in certain aspects of the greater real estate transaction life cycle as a single entity. There are typically lead generation/ cultivation and marketing specialists, buyer and seller agents, contract coordinators, back office personnel, etc. They work collectively on common goals and pipelines rather than independently, and they are accountable to each other.
So, shift happens… below are two ways we see it moving and what we’re doing about it.
Brick and Mortar Shouldn’t Lead Your Digital Strategy
Just because you have 5 offices in your greater service area does not mean you need 5 websites, one will likely do just fine servicing your entire service area(s). In fact, 5 sites would likely diminish from what you could do with a single site that has the proper strategy and structure. You may only need a single website and digital marketing instance for your entire state… or you may need eight.
It’s all very subjective and depends on aspects like:
- What type of a business model(s) do you run?
- How big is/are your service area(s) in both size and population?
- How many MLS’s are required to cover your service areas?
Regardless, your brick and mortar footprint should not dictate your digital marketing strategy. The real estate industry is getting leaner and more competitive. Many real estate businesses have reduced the size of their brick and mortar footprints for the obvious cost savings and the fact there is no need for such.
Instead of going ‘deep’ where a business has multiple offices with hundreds or thousands of agents running under an Agent Centric model in relatively small service areas, the entrepreneurial business leader is going ‘wide’, employing more of what is known as a Broker (or Business) Centric model.
Using a combination of proven processes, a robust technology stack and excellent service, a qualified Business Centric broker can scale their business with the efficiency such should afford. Disparate in distance but connected in the cloud, a properly networked digital marketing and CRM platform is essential to growing a business in today and tomorrows real estate industry, compared to a non-networked environment.
Sweet graphic designed by yours, truly…and I expect proper attribution.
Non-networked service area platforms (SAP) require multiple logins, do not provide top down insight into an entire organization and can be clumsy to the point of decreasing efficiencies at scale. Networked environments give owners visibility into the entire organization and ability to manage it from the top down per SAP across an entire organization. They allow one to identify and resolve major issues quickly.
As this industry further evolves, adopts and adapts to new efficient business methods, so too must the underlying technology. This isn’t about the latest shiny new app, rather fundamental underpinnings such as flexible extensibility to accommodate what we may yet not be able to see.
Custom Property Listing Data Feeds
There are a lot of initiatives circling the world of MLS’s and listing data in general. New national portals, existing portals, a new national MLS, broker controlled listing data distribution databases, new rules around the formatting and transport of listing data… to include a few.
In November, 2014 at the Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee meeting in New Orleans, changes regarding certain Association owned MLS data policies were amended and subsequently recorded in the 2015 MLS Policy Handbook.
- Commingling between MLS’s became mandatory rather than optional. If you were a member of an MLS that didn’t allow for commingling, you had to show that special MLS’s property search results in a separate tab, page or on a completely different site. Because, you know, that is easy for a real estate professional to explain and it makes a ton of sense to the consumer.
- Second, MLS’s must now provide for sold data to be available via IDX feeds. Innovation around sold data can be explored for the benefit of real estate professionals and consumers alike.
- Third, all MLS’s must refresh their listing data feeds at least once every 12 hours. Awesome.
- Finally, all MLS’s must implement the RESO Standards including: the RESO Data Dictionary by January 1, 2016; and the RESO Web API by June 30, 2016 as the RETS standard. This has the potential to substantially disrupt the world of listing data exchange.
With property listing data often coming from numerous overlapping MLS’s (and other sources) covering expansive geographic areas, the listings that are displayed on a real estate professionals website often do not align with their actual service areas.
Considering the above, the ability to select custom listing data super and subsets to display based on ones geographically identified service area will provide for a far better User Experience between real estate professionals and consumers. Focus on providing experiences that improve a client/consumers ability to find and discover, not just more things to search. More things to search impairs judgement while improving confidence.
This graphic is obviously not to scale, nor does it represent actual MLS service areas.
Custom superset of listing data. Business #1’s site returns all listings from two (or more) listing data sources (MLS’s). Caveat here is displaying listings from well outside of your businesses expertise.
Custom subset of listing data. Business #2’s site is displaying only those listings which fall within their custom service area, as a subset of the greater MLS’s service area coverage.
Custom subset of a superset of listing data. Business #3 is choosing to display only those listings which fall within their custom service area, as a subset of the four combined MLS’s service area coverage.
As formatting and transport methods continue to be standardized, it will become easier for the procurer of listing data to personally decide what, when and where it goes. It is time to stop thinking about which MLS’s or other listing data providers cover in terms of arbitrary areas relative to your business, rather think about which areas your business is well positioned to service and deliver on that. Think small to get big.
Networked Service Area Platforms and Custom Listing Sets
The real estate industry is becoming less and less restricted by antiquated borders and bylaws as well as data standards and delivery methods. Business centric real estate professionals are expanding horizontally and vertically, defining and refining their unique service areas and value propositions.
Another not to scale, non representation of actual MLS service areas *sweet* graphic.
Unique SAP’s with custom listing sets are designed for future extensibility and customization to allow for almost any business situation. Expand your ‘Agent Team’ or other scalable model and implement a plan of… dominating Dallas 7 Fort Worth, Texas, (subset of a superset of listing data) just the Las Vegas part of Nevada (subset of listing data) and most of Southern Virginia (superset of listing data)… as in the diagram above.
Agent Centric business models are subject to the same small business risks in the sense that, on average, there is only a 10-20% chance of success over the course of 3-5 years. I’ve talked to more than a few dozen brokers over the years who couldn’t risk much change because they didn’t want to lose any agents. Think about that. Broker hopes agents won’t leave if they try to change/improve their business. (Cliche alert) Hope has never been a strategy nor has letting inmates run the asylum. I understand the ‘independent contractor’ thing, but letting people run around and play entrepreneur with none of the downside is not a sustainable business model.
Business Centric real estate models like Agent Teams (per the definition at the beginning of this article) operate more a like a Franchise in the sense that all of the proper systems and proven steps to success are laid out, you just have to follow them. Networked Service Area Platforms and Custom Listing Sets are part of a greater blueprint for digital marketing success for experienced, business and consumer centric real estate professionals.
Shift happens, it’s a matter of who you choose to navigate it with.