The severe lack of inventory in today’s housing market has been a source of stress for home buyers and real estate agents alike. HousingWire sat down with Realtor.com CEO David Doctorow to learn how agents and brokers can alleviate some of the frustrations their clients are facing.
HousingWire: What are some common consumer pain points in the home buying and selling process?
David Doctorow: We feel for home buyers and sellers. They still face a scary, complex process – despite massive investment in the digital real estate space over the past decades. Owning a home is the biggest investment most people make in their lifetimes, which naturally creates a certain level of anxiety. Beyond that, a home isn’t like a stock purchase – you don’t wake up or raise your family in a mutual fund. No other transaction has such an intimate relationship to your life.
Recent trends also have aggravated an already stressful situation. While the growth in iBuying has given homeowners more options for how to sell their home, it’s also given them more to consider and evaluate in terms of what approach is right for their own situation.
For buyers in today’s market, the severe lack of inventory adds another layer of frustration, FOMO (fear of missing out) and a sense of urgency. First-time home buyers, in particular, can be overwhelmed with everything that goes into finding and securing the home that’s right for them, from determining how much they can afford, working with a lender and choosing the agent that can best help them.
In this context, I believe one of the most important things we can do is to build confidence for anyone who’s buying or selling a home. We do that by giving people valid choices and decision-making control without sacrificing convenience – in essence, improving how we use technology to make the process easier and more enjoyable for consumers and real estate professionals alike.
HW: Should agents, brokers, lenders and title providers feel threatened by recent innovations in the industry? Why or why not?
DD: My advice to real estate professionals is: Don’t be afraid of innovation or technology. Instead, embrace change, and make it work for you.
If you needed a doctor or a lawyer, you’d expect those professionals to be knowledgeable about the latest developments in treatment options or how changes in the law might affect your case. The same is true for buyers and sellers who want and need their agent, lender and title provider to understand and deploy the most current technology platforms and resources on their behalf.
In today’s competitive marketplace, the ability to innovate and apply new ways of doing things can set real estate professionals apart.
For example, when we first introduced our referral model, ReadyConnect Concierge, some agents and brokers were concerned about the change, since it’s a departure from the more traditional online lead generation approach. But many who have embraced this approach are closing more deals by using in-app tools that help them collaborate and communicate with buyers, sellers, lenders and title providers more effectively throughout the process. In a recent survey, seven out of 10 of our concierge customers told us the program was critical or important to their business.
HW: How can agents and brokers do a better job of embracing technology, such as iOffers, digital closings and AI, to alleviate consumer pain points?
DD: The first step is educating yourself about what’s available and possible for today’s home buyers and sellers.
In the iBuyer space, agents can benefit by becoming conversant in the pros and cons of the myriad ways to sell a home in today’s market. Becoming knowledgeable helps them provide valuable counsel to their clients. That was part of our thinking when we created Seller’s Marketplace.
The companies that participate in Seller’s Marketplace provide a variety of home buying and selling models and lending solutions, including some that work with agents and their seller clients. Agents can visit the marketplace to learn about these options on behalf of the homeowners they work with.
Our data shows that the vast majority of visitors to Seller’s Marketplace come for education about iBuyers and other selling models but ultimately, for those who choose to sell, they list their home with an agent. Since we launched the experience in July 2020, more than half of the people who submitted an inquiry chose to connect with an agent.
The digital closing process is another area of innovation in which agents can demonstrate their value. In states that allow fully remote closings, agents who give their clients the ability to e-close from the safety and security of their homes can set themselves apart from the competition.
Toward that end, we’re currently testing an experience with Qualia, a company that provides digital closing technologies to title providers, lenders and agents. In select markets, agents in our concierge network can select and help their clients close with a title provider already on Qualia’s platform or invite their own title partners into the network. Automatic status tracking, secure document sharing and task management tools allow for a seamless and guided closing experience from beginning to end.
HW: How does Realtor.com empower agents and brokers to demonstrate their value to clients?
To build confidence, we’re offering choices to help people understand, evaluate and decide the options that are best for them. That’s the principle behind our open marketplace approach, and it’s how we help our customers – including agents, brokers, lenders and title providers – provide best-in-class service to their clients.
We’re creating a fully transparent process. Our approach helps professionals convert leads into closings at a very high rate, complete seamless transactions, and collaborate smoothly with buyers, sellers and each other. We’re collaborating with real estate professionals and industry stakeholders to build an open marketplace that offers choice, transparency and support for everyone. That means:
- Creating new experiences – like 3D content, virtual tours, commute time mapping, and AI that recommends listing photos that are most likely to appeal to buyers – that draw people into online listings and help agents market their sellers’ homes more effectively.
- Giving agents and brokers the ability to work with their lenders and title providers of choice while offering the option to expand their network of partners.
- Offering technology that allows real estate professionals to manage the transaction with their clients from offer to closing on digital platforms.
Our approach is yielding results. Among agents and brokers, we’ve seen strong demand for the products and services we offer. Consumers are showing up to our site in droves. We’ve grown traffic faster than our closest competitor every month since I’ve been at the company, up 44 percent year-over-year in the past quarter alone with nearly 100 million unique users per month. In March, 108 million unique users visited Realtor.com – a record high.
The differences between Realtor.com and our competitors have never been greater. We’re not flipping houses, and we don’t compete with agents and brokers; we work with them to develop solutions that work for their business.