Our Hawaii Life Principal Broker, Matt Beall, has written an excellent article about whether real estate agents provide value, especially given how technology has changed the real estate industry to the benefit of the consumer.
As Matt has previous explained, before the advent of the Internet, your local MLS (multiple listing service) compiled listings into a fat book which it sold to participating agents. You the consumer could only get access to the information via an agent. Was that providing value? In a sense it was, but there was a strong element of control, as there was in most consumer markets.
Remember the Clue Train Manifesto? When that website (and subsequent bestselling book) appeared in 1999, the authors reminded us that markets are fundamentally conversations about value. Markets were getting smarter and faster thanks to real people entering into conversation with one another via the Internet. And consumers were getting smarter about using online networks to obtain real information real fast; the companies that served them were slow in waking up to the new reality as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Ten years later, real estate is still struggling to catch on. Most real estate company websites are essentially monologues, blatant advertising, anything but a vehicle for conversations. They push information and their sales pitch at the consumer. No wonder consumers turn to Zillow, Trulia, and other websites that give them information AND a chance to participate in market conversation. No wonder smart agents are out having genuine conversations with consumers on Zillow, Trulia, ActiveRain, their blogs, Facebook and Twitter!
Of course, one problem with MLS data, whether you are searching it via an individual real estate company’s website or on the official MLS site or Trulia or Realtor.com, is that each listing agent is responsible for the descriptive and photographic content associated with their listing. And many have not figured out that their audience is no longer another local agent! Maybe you’ve seen listings where agents pitch other agents in the public remarks (“Bonus to selling agent!”) which I would think is a pretty big red flag to a prospective buyer.
Many listing agents haven’t figured out that the better the information they provide, the better they are marketing their Seller’s property (marketing means assisting the right prospective buyer to identify him or herself). How often have you seen a listing where the description just repeats property data (“Beautiful 3BR/2BA home with over 1,400 sq. ft. of living area…”) or where it says the property has “wonderful ocean views” and fails to include even one photo of the view?
Did you know that the state of Hawaii does not even have an integrated MLS? How user-friendly is that, when often a prospective buyer is sitting on the Mainland planning a trip to answer the question “Which island is the best fit for my lifestyle and budget?” When you use our Hawaii Life website to search the MLS for properties, we are integrating feeds from the various MLS services serving our state. That is just one example of how Hawaii Life has done an excellent job of thinking through what a potential buyer of real estate wants a real estate website to do.
We can’t compensate for the quality of the data directly. Technology can’t edit what the listing agent submitted to the MLS in the first place. And that’s where the high tech/high touch approach adds value. We are also making it easier for a Hawaii Life agent to enter into a genuine conversation with you as a prospective buyer. You can jump into the conversation on these blog posts…or inquire about a particular property and begin an ongoing dialogue with a knowledgeable agent. Your agent can help you sort out how properties compare, or preview them for you in advance of your visit. Their job is to add value to the conversation because raw information is everywhere.
Let me give you an example of what it means to me to add value. Big Island broker Katie Minkus and I have been working with a local couple who see current market conditions as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy an oceanfront acreage. (Note that they could have walked in the door at any local real estate office, but instead they began searching late at night from the comfort of their home!
On our first excursion, we went to look at the North Kohala parcel they initially inquired about, as it is one Katie and I both knew and thought would be a good fit for them. They then continued their research using our website, thinking there might also be something interesting on the Hamakua Coast. One of the properties they came up with was unfamiliar to us. Since they live here on the Island, rather than previewing it for them we all piled in the car to look together.
The photo in the listing showed something like this:
Hamakua oceanfront lot
If you swivel in place 180 degrees, your view is something like this:
Hamakua oceanfront rear view
OOPS! But on our drive back to Waimea, Katie remembered another property, not yet on the market because it is still in the subdivision approval process. We set up an appointment to see that property, which our clients could not have found on any website since it is not yet on the MLS. Here is a portion of the 180-degree ocean views from those oceanfront land parcels, looking towards Waipio Valley:
View towards Waipio Valley
Yummy! And to top it off, we ended our day at a second parcel near Hawi that is a great alternative to the one they initially inquired about. This one has great photos on the listing; they probably missed it in their research because the asking price is somewhat higher than they were looking at. What they didn’t know is that the listing agent has repeatedly told us the seller is “motivated”, in which case it would likely fall right into our client’s target price point.
Sellers: You’ve heard that all real estate is local and that’s true, but the Internet is global and that’s where the buyers start, even if they live next door to you. Which means today’s Hawaii real estate seller needs a local agent with a global technology advantage. High tech, high touch adds value for sellers as well.