Commentary by Greg Rand
RISMEDIA, May 19, 2006—Any customer-centric industry must empower the consumer, and, in the highly competitive real estate field, we can analyze our success by separating the buying process into three distinct stages.
Stage One: The Real Estate Shopper
The multiple listing service (MLS), originally shared only among brokers, has been accessed by buyers since the early 1990s. It lets potential customers view offerings online and is used by nearly every real estate firm in the nation. Thus, the front end of the purchasing process is totally automated.
Stage Two: Converting the Shopper into a Buyer
The second stage involves the conversion of the shopper into a buyer. Some brokers recommend a centralized customer service and managing e-mail leads through a central customer service desk. While I understand the benefits of controlling the process of transitioning an online prospect to an offline prospect, our experience has shown that the lack of product knowledge by a central operator gives the client an immediate response, but still unsatisfying experience.
We prefer to decentralize this process to the branch office level. What we sacrifice in process standardization we gain in product knowledge and field-level responsiveness.
Either way, a smooth transition from the cyber world to the real world using automation and customer service presents an opportunity to make an impact on the elusive third stage—transaction processing.
Stage Three: Transaction Management
The Holy Grail of real estate automation, which has yet to be widely adopted, if even attempted, is automated transaction management. Software has been available for 10 years that would help the practitioners of the real estate transaction in establishing a shared platform for Realtors, attorneys, lenders, inspectors, title companies, etc. This software has remained in the shrink-wrap for one main reason—the lack of a driving force that compels the stakeholders in the transaction to cooperate. No one disagrees that one common platform that facilitates the ordering, delivery, storage and details of a real estate transaction would dramatically improve the shared experience, but no one is forcing the issue.
My hope is that, by connecting Stage One (Web shopping) with Stage Two (lead capture and customer service in the field), we have the client in the system, and that system could be enabled to facilitate Stage Three (transaction management). By harnessing the consumer’s demand for a better transaction experience, and leveraging our industry’s previous success with automating the initial stages, we could finally tame the real estate transaction to everyone’s benefit. There is reason to be optimistic.
Greg Rand is the managing partner of Prudential Rand Realty, Inc., one of the largest real estate brokerages in the Greater Hudson Valley with 21 offices in Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties. For more information, please visit www.prudentialrand.com
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