Real estate today: Local agents discuss challenges & opportunities

Technology may assist real estate agents, but relationships is where the rubber meets the road

Mike Lamb

Marked by market swings, shifting inventory and the emergence of several disruptive technologies, still, at the heart of things, many aspects of being a real estate agent haven’t changed.

Technology on the rise

Mike Lamb, an associate broker with Vancouver-based Windermere Stellar Group, has been selling real estate since 1980. He remembers the days when dry-toner copiers didn’t exist – if you wanted a copy of something, you used carbon paper. There were no financial calculators, and few cell phones.

Today, the technology landscape is very different. iPhones are ubiquitous, with an app for just about everything, including opening lock boxes at properties. Videos of houses on the market are common, and the RMLS is digital. But, said Lamb, the fundamentals of real estate sales have not changed.

“I have heard ‘this [new technology] is totally going to revolutionize the industry’ for 10 years,” Lamb said, “but at the end of the day it’s a people business before everything else.”

Zeppidy, which is currently being beta tested in Oregon and Southwest Washington, will soon be rolled out nationally. According to a recent press release, Zeppidy connects “the entire search and listing-to-closing experience onto one online platform.”

Lynette Jackson, a real estate agent with Re/Max One in Fisher’s Landing, said she likes the Zeppidy platform.

“For an agent, it’s fantastic,” said Jackson. She said that traditionally, agents must use different platforms to accomplish different tasks – pulling contract forms from one website, uploading those forms into DocuSign, then forwarding the signed forms to yet another website for paperless storage. Zeppidy puts all that in one place, and can even send automated alerts about pending tasks such as scheduling inspections.

“I agree that you still need to pick up the phone and follow up with people,” said Jackson, “but in this digital age you have to be technically savvy. As technology comes around, you have to know what’s going on, because that’s where people are shopping [and] searching.”

Lamb has a similar philosophy, saying “it’s all about the appropriate use of technology. It helps me be far more productive than I could have been 30 years ago. But there are times when I need to sit down across the table have a conversation.”

Zeppidy also benefits buyers, said Jackson, because Zeppidy’s information is real-time, unlike the often-outdated data on other real estate search platforms, such as Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, Realtor.com and Equator, just to name a few.

“I am thrilled to be one of the first to be using Zeppidy and feel it gives me a leg up on my colleagues,” said Jackson.

Serving up more than just data

“A lot of buyers sit at home or a coffee shop and research properties,” stated Roger Daniels, a broker Windermere Crest Realty in Camas. But, he explained, just because information is available doesn’t mean it’s accurate, or that buyers and sellers know what to do with that information.

“I’m seeing a greater hunger for expertise and wisdom,” Lamb said. “People want the real estate agent to help sort through what information is important and how to make sense of all of it.”

Agents can help meet this demand, said Joe Bjorklund, a real estate agent with Cano Real Estate, by using an advanced customer relationship management platform that helps the agent remember all the relevant details about each client. He also said that he is seeing more real estate companies bringing Zillow-like search capabilities in-house. For example, Cano Real Estate clients can search the entire RMLS from the company’s website. This search behavior is saved so that agents can build a client profile about what each client is looking for, and helps connect buyers with sellers. This is particularly important in today’s fast market, where the “perfect house” can disappear in a few hours.

“We get to know our clients better and serve them faster,” said Bjorklund.

Social media has also played a role in changing the real estate game. Daniels said he uses Facebook for making people aware of new listings as well as educating people about the process of a short sale, the importance of appraisals and lending practices. But he doesn’t overdo it.
“Only about five percent of my posts are business-related,” said Daniels.

Bjorklund uses Facebook and craigslist. He also uses niche websites (about a dozen) to help clients drill down to exactly what they want. For instance, his MasterOnMainHomes.com website connects buyers only to properties that feature the master bedroom on the main level, while ClarkCountyHomeBuilders.com focuses on new construction. This approach, said Bjorklund, appeals to buyers and sellers because they can “cut through the noise and get rid of the superfluous details.”

Bjorklund also uses Twitter, but posts mainly interesting tidbits about life in Vancouver – closed roads, restaurants and events, for example.
“People who follow me are aware that I’m a realtor – but that’s not my main Twitter persona,” said Bjorklund.

But he does do one “shameless plug” tweet once a week, and said it has been productive from a client acquisition standpoint.

Daniels added that while “anyone can sell a house,” successful real estate agents bring more to the table than being technologically savvy. He said that buyers want to know as much as they can about the community – what’s happening, what the schools are like and where the good fishing holes are. Therefore, Daniels, a long-time active Clark County resident, said he regularly reads The Columbian, the Vancouver Business Journal, the Camas-Washougal Post-Record and River Talk.

Daniels also puts his smartphone to good use – using the large screen to show potential customers maps, title reports and photos not just of properties but also of entire subdivisions, parks and other points of interest.

Lamb and Daniels both stressed that technology aside, it is still vital for an agent to have solid relationships with local resources such as surveyors, title companies, lenders – even well drillers and septic services.

Lamb said that he prefers to deal with local people where you can sit across the desk or pick up the phone and talk to them because “you get better service, and can interact at a whole different level than the internet offers.”

Other good agent resources, according to Lamb, include the Clark County GIS web site and the Realtors Property Resource. Bjorklund said the Clark County GIS is a “highly underused tool – but for those who use it well, it’s amazing.”

Standing out from the crowd

Because there are so many tools available to buyers and sellers, they have become quite self-reliant, said Bjorklund, while Lamb pointed out that the recent surge in the real estate market has caused the number of real estate agents in the area to climb by about 14 percent, while pending sales have risen only four percent over a year ago.

“The only variable,” said Bjorklund, “is how buyers and sellers click with their realtor.”

He said that effective real estate agents must negotiate well, but more importantly they must build strong, positive relationships with potential clients.

“This is a very hard business in a lot of ways,” said Lamb. “It’s very competitive.”

And while the tools, processes and regulations may change, the basics are enduring.

“There are really fabulous tools, but they don’t take the place of people and people skills,” Lamb said, to which Daniels added, “To be a successful realtor, you have to enjoy people and find satisfaction in helping people reach their goals.”

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Jodie Gilmore’s journalistic background includes more than 15 years of writing for the Vancouver Business Journal as well as other publications such as Northwest Women’s Journal, North Bank Magazine, American Builders Quarterly and The New American. A Master’s in Technical & Professional Writing and 20+ years in the trenches as a technical writer and online help developer round out her writing background. When not writing, she enjoys gardening and working on her small farm in the Cascade foothills.