If you’re a managing broker, you’re probably bombarded by sales pitches from vendors anxious to sell you their latest brokerage technology innovation. No doubt it’s a state-of-the-art tool that’s guaranteed to help you increase profits, streamline operations and even reduce your staff, allowing you to cut expenses. And, of course, the brokerage down the street is already a customer (you’re told), so to remain competitive you need to buy it too.
Not so fast.
“Make sure that whatever you buy is actually a product that will increase your profitability,” said Bill Lublin, chief executive officer of Century 21 Advantage Gold in Philadelphia and an international speaker and trainer on technology and real estate. “The way things are sold to us is, very often, fear of loss – if you don’t do it, the guy down the street will. That’s the worst reason in the world.”
Brokerage technology products need to generate sufficient income to warrant the expense, Lublin said, and all products purchased should fit your own needs, not someone else’s.
That means that if you’re a desk-fee operator and adopting a new piece of technology will allow you to upcharge your agents – and you believe they will pay for it – then it’s probably a good thing to do. But if you’re a traditional broker and earn a profit from your share of the commissions generated by your agents, then you need to consider, as Lublin puts it, “whether the juice is worth the squeeze.”
HousingWire spoke to three brokerages to learn about their technology stack, which products they consider indispensable and which have helped them streamline their operations and increase profitability.
John Manning, managing broker of Re/Max on Market in Seattle, Wash.
John Manning is a big believer in technology. After all, he had a long career in the tech industry before transitioning to real estate in 2008.
Manning’s tech stack is invaluable for two reasons. The first is efficiency – removing essential, but non-revenue-generating, tasks and then automating them is a big part of his philosophy. Technology also allows Manning’s agents to provide “an impeccable” level of client service.
The foundation of Manning’s operations, and the brokerage technology that supports his 10 agents, is Microsoft’s enterprise platform, which creates an almost zero-admin workplace that requires only that files be saved in a cloud folder. From there, all documents are processed automatically.
“In my opinion, there’s not a single business need that Microsoft has not already created a solution for,” Manning said. “Microsoft percolates through everything we do.”
The firm’s system leverages new technology such as Microsoft AI to read and extract data from documents. Its cloud-based back end allows agents to retain files in a secure environment but access them on any device.
Additional tools include SharePoint for powering the intranet and communicating with clients, Outlook as a combined calendar/email program and Microsoft Teams for videoconferencing, team meetings and virtual tour livestreams. All products integrate with Microsoft – in fact, Manning won’t even consider an addition to his tech stack unless it integrates with the firm’s back end. Asana is used for workflow and onboarding staff, and QuickBooks provides accounting support. Microsoft’s SQL is the firm’s database management platform; it allows Manning to extract data so specific that he can determine what percentage of an agent’s business is coming from a specific zip code.
“Don’t allow yourself to buy into multiple conflicting systems,” he said. “There are technology providers that try to capture you so you can’t do anything with their system except work with them. I would counsel anyone starting a brokerage to start with a definition of their true needs.”
Eddie Berenbaum, co-founder and president of Century 21 Redwood Realty in Ashburn, Va.
Century 21 Redwood Realty, which services the Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia markets, has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2002. The firm now has over 600 agents and will close 4,500 transactions this year, so a well-functioning brokerage technology stack is key to its success.
“Technology is very important because every minute you’re not spending sharing and organizing information you can spend on doing more productive things,” said Eddie Berenbaum. “The need to have a streamlined, all-electronic, yet secure, process is huge.”
Berenbaum said there are six core products that comprise his real estate tech stack:
- AccountTECH, financial software that handles receivables, payables and commission accounting. “It can track revenue from every transaction,” he said. “With 600 agents, it’s very important that they’re paid as fast as possible and as accurately as possible, and that’s what AccountTECH enables us to do.”
- Paperless Pipeline, real estate transaction management software.
- zipForm, which helps agents manage paperwork. Documents such as contracts are just a few clicks away, and information is only entered once and then auto-populated on other forms.
- DocuSign, which allows everything from sales contracts to closing documents to be signed from practically anywhere, any time – a capability that has become essential since the coronavirus pandemic.
- kvCORE, a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) platform.
- Access Redwood, the firm’s proprietary self-built agent portal.
All the components of the tech stack are integrated. “We’ve connected everything together inside our ecosystem,” Berenbaum said. “When agents go into our back-end system, they have single sign-on access to all of their tools.”
Anthony Lamacchia, broker/owner of Lamacchia Realty in Waltham, Mass.
Anthony Lamacchia did extensive research in 2013 and 2014 to find the perfect system to support the operations of his brokerage, which today has 330 agents. But it didn’t exist.
“We discovered that for us to truly build the company, we needed to build our own system,” he said.
In 2014, Lamacchia launched his customized CRM, called LamacchiaHub. Developed at a cost of $1.1 million, it’s built on the Salesforce platform. “It satisfies all of the contact management needs that an agent could possibly have, and it solves those needs for management and staff,” he said. The comprehensive platform has calendar functionality, handles accounting and document management and syncs across all devices.
Lamacchia said the system has more than paid for itself through increased revenue and productivity. “It enabled us to scale,” he said. “We would have a lot more staff if we didn’t have our custom CRM.”
Additional tech tools the firm utilizes include QuickBooks, which integrates with LamacchiaHub, Microsoft Teams and Zoom for meetings and RealScout, a home-search platform that not only allows clients to conduct searches but also lets agents see what their clients are searching for – valuable information that helps them serve their clients better.
“Technology has to make the lives of agents easier and more productive,” said Lamacchia. “And it has to actually do what we want it to do.”