What Consumers Wanted and What They Want Now

I got licensed back in the Pleistocene Era, when dinosaurs roamed the earth:  1976.

Consumers had very little information about real estate, and it wasn’t just MLS-type property information they were lacking.  We had five or six television stations (channels in the UHF range – above channel 12 – were just starting to appear) and so what became a major source of information for many was just getting cranked up.  FM radio was mostly college stations and public broadcasting — AM was king — but there was no news or talk radio.  Not only was there no Internet, there were no PCs.  Information traveled at the speed of sludge and John Q Public had a very limited range of understanding about real estate and about many other things.

REALTORS held the keys to the kingdom:  the MLS.  The only way consumers got to information about property for sale was through us.  And though there were a few FSBOs, most were willing to pay traditional percentage commissions to gain access to the information.   Funny, though:  with an average sale price of $65,000, a commission of $3,600 — though big — didn’t irritate as much as today, when selling the same house would probably cost in the neighborhood of $15,000.

Sellers expected us to do everything.  They wanted to sign the listing agreement and disappear back into their lives, letting their agents take over the process and magically produce a ready willing and able buyer.  I spent much of my agent-time keeping my sellers (buyers too) informed about the process:  what’s coming next, what to expect, what problems might come up and how we’ll deal with them, etc.  They were so grateful to have my understanding of how real estate worked at their disposal.

You spent a lot of time with buyers just narrowing the field of their wants and needs.  They needed to see lots of houses to get down to the style, size and location of the perfect house for them and so showing 15, 20, 30 houses over the course of several weekends was not unusual.  They had no way of ‘seeing’ property unless you put them in the car, drove them over and escorted them through.  The best buyer was always the transferee, who often came with home buying assistance from their employer and usually had a very limited time to find the perfect home.  With the transferee you had the chance of meeting a buyer on Friday and writing an offer for them on Sunday — and that was reason to celebrate!

Today, consumers have ALL the information at their fingertips.  The listing information they can view online is almost identical to what we can see, and tools like Listingbook, Zillow and Trulia make it possible for them to easily manage their own home search process . . . until they need a door opened.  More than that, consumers today can get information about every step of the home buying and selling process by typing a search string in Google.  The air waves — radio, television and Internet — are loaded with information about property transactions and there are whole television channels devoted to real estate.

Sellers look to us to plug them into the marketing resources that exist:  MLS, our website, syndication to as many other aggregators as possible.  They also look to us to spread the word about their property locally and to promote it to our Sphere of Influence.  The goal is the same as it’s always been:  exposure.  Today, because the paths to exposure are so well developed, the task is more management of marketing than creation of marketing.

More than exposure, Sellers today look to us to solve their property problem.  Whether they’re upside down, facing foreclosure or just trying to hang on to as much of their equity as possible, our role is to help them map a course that gets them as close to their goals as possible.  Today that often means minimizing the pain.  Really:  150 years ago, when I was selling real estate, simply dropping the new listing in MLS and letting the industry find a buyer in a reasonable period of time was fine.  Everybody moved and everybody was happy.  Today it’s much more about using your knowledge to accomplish the best possible outcome for your clients, and your knowledge has to always be growing.  That’s why, as James Brown said, it’s important that we all stay in school!

Buyers want to do much of their searching on their own.  They want to spend hours on the Internet looking at listings, saving and eliminating them.  They want to drive by before deciding whether they want to see the inside.  They don’t want to be held captive in the back seat of your car while you show them house after inappropriate house.  The value we can bring to them is in giving them the best tools to help them do that self-directed searching, making it easy for them to get quick answers when they need them, and in anticipating problems before they occur.  I keep saying this:  Listingbook is your best friend when it comes to doing all of this.

The job of REALTOR today is very different than it used to be.  It’s not that we DO LESS than we used to do, it’s that our clients DO MORE.  It’s also that the job has become more specialized and focused.  The one thing that hasn’t changed is the way ordinary real estate brokers charge for their services.    That’s still stuck in the Pleistocene Era.  The tough market of the last few years is like an Ice Age and as with all Ice Ages, the end result will be extinction for certain species.  Not to worry.  As the ice recedes, newer, better, stronger, more adaptable species emerge and dominate.  That’s us.

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