19 July, 2019

What I Learned From 55 Austin Real Estate Agent Interviews

BY Aaron Scruggs

Over the last nine months we’ve been researching the Real Estate Industry. Along the way we interviewed 55 real estate agents in the Austin area.  

Here is what I learned…

They Want Help

Just about everyone we spoke to is looking for ways to improve their business. 

The only exception would be a chosen few who have been in the industry for over 20 years, who work only with referrals/repeats and have delegated every part of their job they don’t enjoy.

The help that everyone else is looking for can largely be placed into one of two categories:

  1. Leads – The ever-present question on every growing real estate agent’s mind is, “how do I get more leads (for less) and improve the quality of those leads?”
  2. Operations – How can I systemize my business? This includes everything from organizing documents, to tracking critical dates, to Transaction Management.

Leads are Worth A Lot More Than Operations

This is no surprise. Real estate agents spend more on leads than operations; a lot more! 

I heard amounts that exceeded $10,000/mo for lead generation, while no agent I spoke with spent over $500/mo on operations.

Buying leads is getting harder, though. Those that track their revenue sources are seeing a diminishing ROI from traditional online lead sources.   

Indies are Feeling the Squeeze

A lot of Austin real estate agents have their eye on Compass. With slick marketing, attractive incentives, and the promise of a solid technology offering, there is a lot to be curious about. Furthermore, Compass has already attracted several high profile Austin agents.

On another front, if you read Inman news, you’d think iBuyer programs are about to take over the world. But none of the agents singled this out as a specific concern.  

There are Many Tools but Few Good Options

Real estate agents are marketed to heavily and their inboxes are full of Spam. This makes it very hard for them to discover products and services that could actually help them.  

Additionally, the learning curve of these products is often steep. It requires a significant time investment to figure out how these tools work. Not to mention, once they have mastered a new tool, it typically requires manually duplicating a lot of existing data.

We found few tools that were easy to use and earned agents’ praise. Docusign may be the one universal exception.

Product Design Matters

It doesn’t take long watching an agent navigate MLS, Transaction Desk & Zipform to understand why they might not be too interested in adopting new technology. These are complicated beasts of applications that serve a diverse audience, and it shows!  

Real estate agents deserve tools that put their needs first. They need products designed for them – that minimize the manual duplication of data, are intuitive to use, and focus on doing the most common tasks as easily as possible.   

Facebook to Instagram

Real estate agents are comfortable on Facebook. In fact, they have private forums where they are incredibly helpful and collaborative – a community in the truest sense. Facebook is also where many of their clients are.

That being said, agents are starting to become more active on Instagram as the platform’s popularity rises and Facebook’s declines.

They also mentioned these platforms would be some of the few marketing channels where they might take note of products and services being offered. 

If It Bleeds, It Leads

This is more of a personal observation… When I was an agent at Long & Foster in Virginia, I remember my broker, Dotti, warning us about discounters coming into the market and potentially putting our jobs in jeopardy. 

Fast forward 20 years to today and real estate agents are still here, still thriving, and still an important part of the community.  

About 9 months ago I signed up for Inman News. After a week of reading every article of interest, I was convinced the sky was falling and that I better head for the hills now. Nonetheless, I kept talking to local agents that were growing. 

So what gives?

As well as I can tell, the old news adage, “if it bleeds, it leads” drives the real estate industry’s water cooler conversations. We love something exciting to talk about – especially if it pertains to some existential threat. After we get too caught up in all the hype, we “get back to basics” and continue to march forward.

It’s All About the Client 

The age of a broker-centric real estate model long since gave way to an agent-centric model. But these days the model is changing, yet again, to one that is client-centric.  

The agents that put the client experience first are thriving, find it more enjoyable, and are better positioned to continue to succeed while discounters and disruptors continue to invade the industry. 

The Contract to Close Contradiction

Every real estate agent told me that their best clients are referrals and repeats. They also told me that during, or shortly after the purchase process was complete, is when they were most likely to get those referrals; this all made sense.

But once a contract was signed (especially after the option period was over), agents generally weren’t able to be as available to their clients any longer. They needed to focus on showing homes to other clients or finding their next one.  

So this is the contradiction: at the moment when buyer’s remorse is at its highest and referrals are most likely obtainable, agents aren’t able to give those clients as much attention as they need.  

I think there is a real opportunity here.

Conclusion

I didn’t know what I would discover when I started talking to all these real estate agents. 

What I learned is that the industry has become more focused on the client and agents are getting better leads from their clients. In order for them to grow their business, they will need easy to use industry-specific tools that better nurture those relationships to continue successfully obtaining great leads.

Finally, what I found were some of the nicest and hardest working individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Not only that, but they were amazingly generous with their time and knowledge.

Index 

Below are some of the additional resources we found most helpful in getting to know the industry: