The real estate industry is undergoing rapid change like never before. The pandemic has significantly reshaped how agents, third-party providers and clients transact. Clearly, the need for digital real estate tools has quickly escalated from a “nice to have” to a critical “must-have.”
From the West Coast to the East Coast, agents and brokers are reporting more buyers looking to flee the cities and move to the suburbs. But with inventory as tight as ever, multiple bids are increasing while days on market linger in the single digits.
Today’s buyers and sellers don’t only expect a frictionless, digital transaction experience — they demand it. With nearly every product and service available digitally on demand, consumers are used to clicking to transact, from reserving travel and buying a car to ordering coffee.
As Craig McClelland of Atlanta-based Metro Brokers points out, we’re heading into an era where “super agent service,” complemented by virtual, video and digital transaction tools, is becoming the norm.
“We’re in a rocket-pace industry that’s moving so fast and is more complicated than before, so it requires a different level of clarity and communication and set of resources,” he says.
Recently, we polled top agents and brokers nationwide and asked them how they’re delivering that ultimate customer experience in today’s fast-changing environment. Here are their top tips:
In California, Daryl Rogers, President of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate | Reliance Partners, Roseville, CA, finds well-priced, quality homes are listing for an average four days on market.
In Tulsa, OK, licensed agent and dot-Certified Technology Trainer and Consultant Carolyn Thompson is working a market “unlike anything I’ve seen over the last 20 years in Oklahoma.”
In Atlanta’s metro area, good properties priced well are going into contract “within minutes,” says McClelland whose brokerage has written more contracts than any other month since June 2006 and, this past July, surpassed July 2019 by about 25%.
And to the northeast, Candace Adams, President and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, New England Properties, New York Properties and Westchester Properties, reports record demand as New Yorkers make a mass exodus from their urban dwellings in search of more isolated, private pastures throughout Connecticut.
“In many of our markets, properties are selling so quickly, we’re barely able to get them listed on the market. Homes that are priced well or entry level are easily selling within a week or two,” Adams says.
This deluge of buyer demand coupled with tight inventory nationwide makes submitting a fast offer absolutely critical in today’s market. For Adams, dotloop has been an essential resource to not only keep her agents operational during the pandemic but also competitive in today’s tight sellers market.
When you have a tried and true transaction platform like dotloop and you can do deals virtually, it’s a clear differentiator.
— Candace Adams, President and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, New England Properties, New York Properties and Westchester Properties
“Frictionless speed” is the name of the game for today’s buying agents, says Bruce Ailion, agent and attorney, RE/MAX Town & Country, Atlanta, GA. “The days of meeting a home buyer, deciding on an offer price, returning to the office, printing out the form, typing or filling it out by hand, meeting with the buyer again, taking it to the listing agent, who then meets with the seller and brings it back, are over,” he says.
Consider one of Ailion’s customers who took to driving the neighborhood he desired after losing five houses to competitive bids. He saw an agent planting a sign, toured the home immediately and got the list price. Ailion notes, “Dotloop allowed me to write the offer, have them sign it and submit to the listing agent within 10 minutes.”
With inventory down 24% YoY and less than three months’ supply across the board, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices broker Ann King coaches her agents to continually build relationships.
“People want to work with who they know and trust,” says King. “If you build that relationship, they will come back to you.”
Thompson, who trains nationwide on the dotloop platform, finds agents need to establish that relationship and rapport with the customer first before adding too much of the tech piece. She’ll typically spend an hour with a new client, explaining what the entire transaction process will look like, from the contract to the financials. “They have questions they don’t even know they have and they look to you as an expert,” she says.
Then, Thompson asks her new clients to fill out the entry paperwork on dotloop. “I tell them, ‘I want you to try out the platform because when you find that house we have to move quickly.’ Because they’ve already experienced what it’s like to sign something in dotloop, it gives them the confidence to follow through with the offer. Some of these offers we have to execute in 30 minutes and, with dotloop, you can do it.”
Long after the deal closes, staying relevant with past buyers and sellers also helps agents remain top of mind and generate repeat referrals. Dotloop’s front-end integrations make it easy to sync a CRM or video email app like BombBomb to wish a client a virtual “happy home anniversary” or birthday greeting.
Imagine a real estate hub where a client and her agent enter a slick video conference space, slip on a pair of virtual reality goggles to experience a listing in “6D” before viewing additional listings on a large, four-quadrant HD screen. If the client should decide to pursue a property, she has access to a suite of third-party providers, including title, escrow, mortgage, financial and insurance officers.
Down the hall, an adjacent 30- x 30-foot media studio offers real estate professionals a space to run a podcast, shoot a video, take a headshot and create 3D renderings of new construction.
The best part? No one has to step foot outside their home because everything that can be done in the physical realm is enabled from a mobile device. Truth be told, this high tech physical/virtual hybrid “office of the future” already exists, according to Jeff Cohn, owner of KW Elite and the innovator behind a new KW Market Place in Omaha, NE.
Cohn has blended the best of both worlds: a 10,000-square foot physical/virtual center where people can come together in one space to talk shop and maybe share a craft beer on tap, or they can meet virtually from home sitting in front of their laptops.
“There’s advantages to both. Agents like to work on their own in their own space, but they also want the physical space to feel the energy,” says Cohn.
Cohn, who recently invested in the 3D virtual reality imagery company getvrly.com, which offers digital marketing services including Matterport, now offers customers a 3D and “6D” virtual reality experience that enables customers to see things otherwise missed, like a peek inside the refrigerator, under cabinets and interiors of closets.
Even if building an all-in-one, high-tech real estate center isn’t in your future plans, there are virtual video features that any agent can use to deliver the ultimate customer experience, including 3D and virtual video, digital listing presentations, and digital transaction features, like pre-filled Templates and Tasks Lists for faster transacting.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the industry has been promoting use of virtual tools to show homes and, most agree, the trend is here to stay.
First, the ability for a buyer to narrow their home search from their phone or laptop is more than convenient and saves both the agent and client hours of driving time. Two, today’s video and imaging technology is so advanced, clients are more likely to click on a 3D tour and see details they may not have noticed during an in-person tour.
Video and other tools have been the prime drivers behind the Alex Venditti Group’s 65% YoY growth in the Washington, D.C. area. “Hands down, nothing can make an impact on people like video can,” says Venditti. “It brings in the human element. That’s how people are communicating.”
Catering to an elite D.C. clientele, this group produces lifestyle mini movies that are more like a “reality TV experience than a generic video.” The videos feature clients, team members or actors in scenes that tell a story, like a family hosting a dinner in a home’s courtyard space or a couple picking up pastries from the local neighborhood bakery.
“We like to show how you live. This has magnified our business like you can’t believe,” says Venditti.
Customers want quick, convenient and seamless transactions, so having everything, from a safe digital escrow transfer with Earnnest to instant referrals for a home warranty or lender, on one digital platform avoids the customer having to look outside to complete the deal.
Thompson, who trains agents across the U.S. on dotloop’s platform, finds dotloop’s Templates, a huge help in moving the transaction forward. “It’s great when you’ve already built out those Templates and they’re established. So when you need to make an offer fast, you can grab the Template, insert the property address, load the people and just fill in the blanks in the contract,” she says.
At Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Florida Network Realty, King says her agents use dotloop to invite their in-house title, mortgage and home warranty contacts into the loop, while her admins navigate the platform start to finish with the Act on Behalf feature to help keep everyone on track.
“That’s really secure protection for the buyer and seller because they’re ensured that everything is dotted and crossed off. The Tasks function in dotloop has been key for that,” she notes.
Wire fraud and managing paper checks are not a worry with dotloop’s latest integrations partner, Earnnest, a digital way for buyers to send their deposits via a bank-level encrypted digital transfer directly from the platform. The agent simply clicks in their dotloop account to send a request to the buyer, who can then transfer the funds in a matter of minutes.
With everyone moving to a digital focus, having Earnnest directly inside the dotloop account allows the easy, quick transfer of the trust money. This integration pulls in the last item needed for the transaction and allows a clear, simple path.
— Jenni Barnett, CFO/COO, Parks Realty, Brentwood, TN.
True concierge service may mean tending to the details or doing the “heavy lifting” for the client. Cohn’s brokerage, for instance, arranges the buyer’s move, changes the utilities and updates the mail service.
As Jim D’Amico, President/CEO, Century 21 North East, reminds, “The home buying and home selling processes are the most stressful purchases and sales in a person’s life. It’s a major life investment and should be treated as such.” Add the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic and it becomes clear that “information is paramount” as the customer experience draws more into focus.
For Rogers, who serves California’s Gold Country about three hours east of the Bay Area, that extra level of information is critical to serving his many Bay Area customers looking for a simpler, non-urban lifestyle in an unfamiliar region. In this case, his agents need to educate the client about the neighborhood and not just sell the home.
“Our lifestyle brand is not only about looking for a house,” Rogers says, “so our questions may be, ‘Do you like to paddleboard?’ ‘What activities are there for kids?’ and ‘What type of community are you looking for?’ Most of these customers know nothing about the local area, so our agents have to educate them on how far the schools are and where the rivers and lakes are.”
Some customers prefer email. Others prefer texting, while some still feel more comfortable conversing on the phone. However your customers prefer to communicate, you’re likely to get a faster response when you communicate with them in their preferred style.
“Great agents meet consumers where they are,” says McClelland. “If they call you, call them. If they email you, email them back. If they don’t want to leave their house, meet them on Zoom. It’s all about meeting the consumer where they are.”
As consumers increasingly choose texting as their preferred form of communication, dotloop’s text Messenger on the mobile app has played a key role in expediting offers and moving the transaction forward by enabling agents and clients to share and eSign contracts, get instant notifications and, as McClelland notes, “give the agent the flexibility to write an offer in minutes and send it to the listing agent before the customer has even left the house.”
“Dotloop’s texting feature keeps a ‘paper trail’ of every conversation,” says Venditti. “The platform has become imperative, especially now, when we can immediately send customers a blank document and let them know, ‘this is what your offer could look like.’”
More team leads and brokers are finding the type of tech tools they offer their agents, the better results they have with recruitment and retention. And the happier the agent, the happier the client.
“When we sit down with an agent who’s interviewing three or four companies before they make a decision and they choose us, I know that’s a direct reflection on the tools we’re offering,” says Rogers.
McClelland also finds new recruits respond favorably when they’re extended a package of digital tools and resources, like dotloop, which they’ve used since 2014, and Zoom, which they now use for training, to hold meetings, conduct listing presentations and host open houses.
“After the pandemic began,” he says, “we pivoted pretty significantly toward a digital, video-based platform, and we’ve outpaced our competitors with our agents outperforming MLS agents by 20%. When the market said, ‘You have to go digital to perform,’ we said, ‘OK, we’re already there. It was an easy shift for us.”
While some older agents have been fearful of tech, King says “dotloop is very user friendly and has helped to bring everyone on board.”
Venditti agrees. “We’ve had other digital apps before, but dotloop’s app is so easy to teach customers, even for an elderly person who’s not super tech savvy. Having that digital capability is everything.”
In the end, great customer service is really “not about making money off the customer, but rather,” Cohn says, “about treating your customers with the goal of getting them to talk to their friends about you. Become the value conversation.”