Technology has changed dramatically over the last 10 years and had a strong impact on the REALTOR® business. New forms of technology have enhanced mobility and improved efficiency, but they have also eliminated a level of control from the average real estate agent.
Consumers and Technology
Consumers have fully embraced the internet. According to the Bureau of the Census, in 1997 only 18.0 percent of Americans had internet at home; by 2009, that figure had jumped to 68.7 percent. The internet is no longer just a source of information and e-commerce, but a means of creating and expanding relationships, both personal and professional. Friendster gave way to MySpace, which gave way to the social media giant Facebook. The number of active members on Facebook jumped from just one million users in December of 2004 to more than 500 million by the end of 2010. Today blogs are common and for those for whom the speed and frequency of interaction on these sites are not enough, registered users on Twitter now total 175 million with an average of 95 million tweets per day.
Consumers have incorporated the internet into their home search as well. According to NAR’s 2010 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, the share of buyers who searched “frequently” on the internet for their home rose from 71 percent in 2003 to 89 percent in 2010. The share of homebuyers who found their home on the internet jumped from 8 percent in 2001 to 37 percent in 2010. Among buyers who used the internet, the features most often used were photos and detailed information about the property. Buyers were less interested in information on “days on market” and comparables. This pattern suggests that consumers use online information about listings to better educate themselves for the purchase decision, but they are less interested in information that would help them with pricing or strategies of the purchase process. Consumers want to better understand the particulars of the property and leave the process to their REALTOR®.
REALTORS® and Technology
The march of technology has also left an imprint on REALTORS®. REALTORS® were quick to adopt both e-mail and mobile phones. As early as 2002, 96.6 percent of REALTORS® had a mobile phone. At that same time, use of other wireless devices, particularly those withe-mail or internet capabilities, was low at only 17.4 percent, and less than a third (31.7%) of REALTORS® used a pager. Desktop computers were used by almost 73 percent of REALTORS® at their place of business and 84 percent had a desktop computer at home.
By 2010, the technology used by REALTORS® was different. Pagers disappeared and only 16 percent of REALTORS® planned to buy a desktop PC – a trend that reflects the demise of the brick-and-mortar office. Technology enhanced mobility and REALTORS® took advantage of that, with 34 percent planning to buy a laptop, 21 percent selecting an iPad and 42 percent opting for a smart phone.
REALTORS® embraced more than just gadgets. The internet enabled REALTORS® to create virtual offices, to market in new ways, and to expand spheres of influence through social networking. According to the 2010 REALTOR® Technology Survey conducted by NAR’s Center for Real Estate Technology, when asked what factors were important for generating business, the internet ranked third behind referrals and repeat business, but still 54 percent of REALTORS® affirmed that the internet was “very important” for generating leads. However, a substantial 29 percent stated that the internet was “important” – likely a reflection of differences in REALTORS® ability to fully adapt this technology into their marketing program.
Younger REALTORS® were much more apt to use social networking sites as well as blogs according to the 2010 NAR Member Profile. Experience, as opposed to age, was a deterrent to adopting technologies like laptops, smartphones, instant messaging, and global positioning systems (GPS). The high cost of these gadgets may act as a barrier to their adoption by veteran REALTORS® who may have large investments in older technology, but this disparity may ease gradually. However, the slow adoption of social media by older members likely reflects differences in their comfort level with this medium and a difference in ability or desire to utilize it in their marketing program.
The internet allows REALTORS® to market listings to a much broader audience than before. In 2010, the site most frequently used by REALTORS® to list their properties was REALTOR.com, followed by their broker site, and their personal site. Magazines, national franchises, and local newspapers, traditional sources of listings, had all fallen below a 40 percent share.
Technology has had a substantial impact on the lives of both consumers and REALTORS® over the last decade. Consumers have embraced the internet as a search tool, but also as a social outlet. REALTORS® embraced the internet as well, and property listings now flourish on line. REALTORS® are also increasing their use of social media as a means of expanding their sphere of influence and lead generation. Gadgets have also had an impact, untethering REALTORS® from their offices and enabling them to communicate much easier. But, while technology has been broadly adopted by the REALTOR® community, social media remains the avenue of younger REALTORS®. Real estate is a fast and fluid business and REALTORS® will continue to seek out and adopt those technological that augment their business. The next 10 years are likely to bring dramatic changes in the ways REALTORS® use those technologies.