If you poll residential real estate agents about why they entered the industry invariably the high level of autonomy is at the top of the list. In almost every case real estate agents are independent contractors. They have the freedom and flexibility to set their own hours, determine their own marketing and advertising strategies, invest in their own technology, and control many other aspects of their business. There are advantages and disadvantages to this arrangement. If you talk to agents they will often tell you they love the ability to make time for their personal life as a real estate agent. They can pick their kids up from school, they can take vacations and long weekends at will, and in a professional sense they are almost entirely responsible to only themselves. The other side of that coin is that they can only rely on themselves. There is no real division of responsibilities in the industry. As an agent you are your own marketing director, human resources director, accountant, and chief technology officer. Agents are constantly barraged by salespeople peddling all sorts of products to enhance marketing, technology, and lead generation efforts. In many cases the agents are not qualified to evaluate these products, develop implementation strategies, manage change, or develop methods to evaluate effectiveness after implementation. This is not because agents are stupid; it is simply because they cannot be the expert in everything and there is only so much time in the day.
As I observed this unique environment my initial thought was to help the agents by allowing our staff to take a lot of the burden of technology off of their plate. If we could spread this heavy burden of managing technology across the staff and fellow agents we could have the best of both worlds. We could leverage technology, while allowing agents to remain focused on the clients. To me this sounded like a no-brainer. Of course, the “no-brainers” always make the hair stand up on the back of my neck, because I am wondering what I am missing. That thing that I was missing was the autonomy of the agents. See, the problem is that the second you start trying to centralize technology in order to improve efficiencies you chip away at the autonomy of the agents. It boils down to a value issue. The company provided solution requires that agents attend training at a specific time, they must implement the solution that may not do “everything” that they individually want, but most importantly they lose a little bit of control. They are often times not willing to give up a little bit of what they consider important to get the 80 percent solution. As a result we go back to square one. The technology initiative fails, agents are left to their own devices, and the industry as a whole does not progress.
The question is how do we move past this? How do we generate real technology solutions which do not infringe on the high value that agents attribute to autonomy? If we can answer these questions we can start to bring real estate out of the technological dark ages, improve agent-client interactions, and improve the overall experience with residential real estate. My fear is that if these questions go unanswered by the industry, as technology advances, we will see a solution that does not bode well for individual agents and brokerages. Many companies are working diligently on developing technologies that provide solutions that far outpace the average agent or brokerages capability. They would like nothing more than for us to continue to not work together. According to Moore’s Law technology doubles every 18 to 24 months. As this happens we see exponential technological improvements.
Technology is advancing at a rapid rate. Putting our heads in the sand like an ostrich and claiming that, “This is a people business, technology will never be critical” will not continue to work. As it is, that statement is not even true anymore. Technology has made dramatic increases in our industry in the last ten years. Electronic signatures, cloud storage, virtual assistants, and electronic transaction management services are just a few of the many advances that we have seen in the last decade. The problem is that we are reaching the limits of what any one person can manage. Community is the only thing that can help us sustain technological advancements moving forward. The answer is in finding a way to work together, again. Before technologies advances agents were in the offices every day, and interacted continuously. As technology has advanced agents moved out of the office into their own silos. These silos are the enemy of technology management. It is ironic that technology has pushed us apart, but in order to advance through technology we need to learn to come back together again.