I find it fascinating to grab a beer with the veteran agents in our office, the agents 25 plus years in. They often speak wistfully of the “good old days”. That glorious time (for them) before computers when new listings were literally sheets in a book, fax machines were revolutionary and deals got done in bars with handshakes. With sadness they speak of this time, as they struggle to understand the direction our industry (and society) is heading in.
I would say I fall somewhere in between. I’m old enough to have gotten through high school in pre-social media times (and for that I am eternally grateful), and I was trained to use traditional sales methods, primarily telephone cold-calling.
The phones served me well for a long time, but I would be lying if I said that the returns haven’t been diminishing in recent years. The only people with landlines are getting older and older, and during a pandemic that’s not exactly low hanging fruit.
It became apparent to me that I needed to embrace new technologies and modes of doing business. As a person that finds the concept of the Kardashians vapid and soul crushing, I definitely had to come around to the notion that social media is a legitimate thing, and a legitimate way to do business.
This got me thinking about how much things have changed in my decade in the business. What stands out most to me is the advance in the level (and quality) of information that has been made available to the (non-agent) general public. This is what has “changed the game” and been most disruptive, and the hardest thing for the wistful agent in the opening paragraph to react to.
Ten years ago, real estate technology was relatively simplistic. Apps were still in their infancy, and there was effectively only one website where the public could find information. That website was Realtor.ca, and it was (and still is) far from a user-friendly platform and generally deficient in many ways.
Fast forward to today and the times they are a changin’. Realtor.ca has been left in the dust by much better public websites, none more innovative than Housesigma.com. This site truly raises the bar and just about every buyer I worked with in the past year mentioned it or used it as an additional data source. If you haven’t checked it out you should.
All you need is an e-mail address, and with that Housesigma.com will provide you with full details of every house for sale on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), complete sales history of the house you are interested in AND sales data for comparable houses recently sold in the area.
The last point is key, because up until 2017 the public could only consistently access sales data by having a registered real estate agent send it to them. Thus actual person to person engagement was required. But the 2017 Federal Court of Appeal ruling overturned this, and all of a sudden sold data was there for every Tom, Dick and Harry to see.
This ruling divided the agent pool. Traditional agents were worried – if the public has access to more information they will have less need for an agent. They could point to Napster and what it brought to the music industry. But anybody that opposed Napster certainly ended up on the wrong side of history.
Meanwhile, forward thinking agents embraced the release of sales data. We are after all in the business of providing our consumers the service they want, and the one thing they wanted more than anything was access to more information. In fact, give the public all the information they want. They will always need an expert to help them make sense of it.
Another aspect of the site that I find fascinating, and traditional agents find a huge pain in the ass, is the “estimated price” feature, where an algorithm provides a projected sale price for the house you are interested in.
The reason some agents hate this feature is that sometimes buyers “lock in” on the estimated price and take it for gospel, when in reality it is often wildly inaccurate. Just last week buyers I’m working with were interested in a home in East York and had dug up intel on Housesigma.
It was showing a sale price of $1,160,000 on a list price of $1,129,000. We didn’t end up making an offer, but in conversations after we saw the house I could see they were getting stuck on the $1,160,000 number, which I knew was way too low. Other agents have complained of the same thing happening, and “deals lost” because of this bad intel.
I explained to my buyers to take it with a grain of salt. I explained to them what it is, and what it isn’t. I took them through my own curated comparable sales one by one in painstaking detail, and talked about where the market is today and where it is heading.
In short I did the job they hired me to do, and together we decided the house was out of budget. By doing so we opted out of making a hopeless offer that would have further pushed the price up. By doing so we made it easier to get the next house that came our way.
So what does this all mean?
Yes, there is more information available to the public than ever before.
Yes, the “good old days” are gone forever, especially with the pandemic.
And yes, agents are needed more than ever before, to help navigate the information, mis-information and tumultuous times. It’s never been more important to do things right, with an experienced professional, especially as I write this on the eve of the US Inauguration. The stakes are too high otherwise.
And the home that Housesigma predicted would sell for $1,160,000? It sold for $1,340,000!! Somewhere the monkeys with the typewriters are grimacing.