Nearly everything in our lives has migrated online over the past decade. We shop online, read books on our tablets and stream movies through Netflix. We book flights ourselves and rent cars from an app on our phone. Handshakes have given way to email and Facebook ‘likes.’

The world has undoubtedly changed, but relics of our old lives remain.

This is especially apparent in real estate with the prevalence of documents, whether deadwood or digital attachments. Real estate professionals must close the gap – to succeed in an industry where human connections and experiences now matter more than ever.

More of the Same Won’t Cut It

Think back to how agents and clients closed deals in the past. The buyer and seller would meet with their agents to negotiate until they either reached a deal, or didn’t. If they reached a deal, they would shake hands and then document it. Over time, however, the document became the meeting place. It was scanned, mailed and inefficiently tossed back and forth to close a deal. Layer on the past 30 years of digital innovations, from the fax machine and scanners to email and Google Hangouts, and our industry is left with a convoluted mesh of yesterday’s technologies that solve yesterday’s problems.

That’s not to say those technologies are negative – far from it – but there’s a better way to do business by solving the ‘document problem’ plaguing real estate. Collaboration tools exist and are being proven in industries left and right – just look at Yammer or Tibbr’s customer pages for proof. The real estate industry has followed but we are far from finished.

Cloud-based collaboration technology can help real estate professionals truly work better with everyone involved in real estate transactions – and borrow from other industries to realize how to work better, together. In healthcare, two Michigan-based providers, Beaumont Health System and Henry Ford Health System, turned to Box to swap the necessary files during merger talks. Can you imagine the amount of paperwork that shift eliminated? Mergers are notoriously paperwork-heavy, but these two companies brought that massive dealing online. Even President Obama looked to the cloud for help on his 2012 re-election campaign, using’s Chatter to track the millions of messages  the campaign received every day to properly route questions to the appropriate staffer. Neither of these would be possible with email and PDFs, or at minimum, would have taken exponentially longer to complete.

It’s clear that industries with significant security and compliance regulations, sensitive data and plenty of excuses to maintain paper-centric processes have all adopted cloud technology to work better, together. It’s time for real estate to take the next step, too.

Peoplework, Not Paperwork

Everyone involved in real estate – agents, brokers, associations and technology vendors – needs to think hard about how we work, and if it makes sense with how we live the rest of our lives. And while it’s hard to predict where real estate professionals and their clients will take technology if given the chance to use it – it’s exciting to realize that improvisation is the real power. Wherever it leads, it’s safe to assume that it will be a new way of doing things that’s different than what they’ve used in the past — and it won’t include the document.

Documents, whether printed or attached digitally, are clunky and make technology more apparent. Too apparent. It becomes the focal point. The future of working together looks much more collaborative, and it puts the focus back where it belongs – on peoplework, not paperwork. The opportunity and challenge for real estate professionals is to guide clients through one of the most important financial decisions they’ll ever make, and to make that experience as personal and as pleasant as possible. Anybody who forces clients to close a deal like their parents did in 1995 won’t be in business for long.

A Future Beyond Documents

It may seem like a huge undertaking to make this shift, but it’s not. In fact, it’s already happening in other aspects of your life. I’d wager that you’ve banked online, shopped at or swapped your Post-Its for Evernote. Well, so have your clients. There’s a better way, and it depends on real estate professionals leading the industry beyond what’s worked in the past.

Are you up for it?