A case for a new path for the Real Estate Industry, leveraging technology to reduce the role of the Realtor®s leading to a better user experience.

Abstract

Buying a home is synonymous with the American Dream, as such the large majority of Americans buy a home -or multiple- during their life time. The transaction is complex, full of ineficiencies, lacks transparency, and it is still largely analog. The goal of this research is to seek and present to the public a smart solution leveraging technology. 

Introduction

5.4Million homes were sold in 2018, for most homebuyers, it is the largest loan/purchase in their lifetime. The industry employs millions of professionals, 3 Million Realtor®s, 500 thousand lenders, and countless Real Estate Attorneys, Home Inspectors, and Title Professionals.

In spite of being a mature industry, the average Real Estate transaction remains fractured, lacking transparency, and -as of 2019- it remains mostly analog. The goal of this document is to highlight the inefficiencies and put forth a solution. 

The hypothesis is that a synchronized digital transaction including full visibility to the user/home buyer as well as the professionals involved, as well as giving the buyer the opportunity to hire vetted professionals will make for a faster, more transparent transaction, with a better experience and better referrals all around. Today’s home buyers are smarter and better prepared than in any other generation, the argument is that provided the right amount of information and visibility into the process, they’ll handle the Real Estate transaction with minimal input from the professionals except for those tasks which require a license -for example, only a Realtor® can show a home listed on the MLS. 

Literature review

In writing this document I use 23 years of Real Estate experience as a home buyer, home seller, and Real Estate Broker. As well as over 32 surveys (home buyers) and discussions with over 60 Real Estate professionals (lenders, Realtor®s, attorneys, title). 

Methods

I have used below methods to prepare for writing the thesis and conclusion of this topic.

Experience

Home purchase: 

February 2016. A duplex and rental space, NJ.

September 2018: Second property, a duplex,, NJ. 

Home Sell: 

June 2019. Sold first duplex. 

Licensed Real Estate Broker: 

Took a Real Estate License course in 1996, and have researched and followed the industry since. 

2017- present, participated in four buy/sell transactions and four rentals. North NJ market: Hudson, Essex, Union counties. 

User Surveys: 

Spring 2017 -flash cards with process- asked users to organize them in ideal format. Also sample questions: renter vs owner, tried to buy a home? 

Common answer: 

Yes, turned off by complex and ‘shadyness’ of the process. Yes, homes are too expensive. 

Interviews with Professionals: 

Spring 2017 to present. 

Pitched the following solution: 

All vendors in a single dashboard, including buyer, Docs available, Clear datelines. 

Overall positive feedback on proposal. 

Only pushback: I want my own ‘team’ vs letting user choose.

It is common practice in the last ten years for Realtor®s to have a ‘team’, meaning a handful of Mortgage Brokers, Attorneys, Inspectors, and Title companies they like working with. 

Results

The surveys confirmed my personal experience, highlighting a lack of transparency, lack of follow up and keeping the buyer in the ‘dark’ and constantly chasing Realtor®s for updates. 

For those who experienced home purchases in the past, one of the biggest issues they had was the lack of transparency between the Realtor®, lender, and the other professionals involved. As is common practice, the average home buyer reaches out to a Realtor® when they first decide to buy a home. The next step is to get a pre-approval for a loan, and if the home buyer does not know one the Realtor® will offer to introduce one. Soon after pre-approval they go see a few homes, make a few offers until an offer is accepted. The home buyer is over the moon; however, the process is still 60% until the finish line. In the next few weeks, the buyer should hire a Real Estate Attorney, Home Inspector, and Title Professional. If they don’t know one, the Realtor® will introduce one they like working with. Although there are regulations which prevent it, the home buyer is often under the impression that all these folks they must hire will pay a kickback to the Realtor® and it makes sense they’ll charge them more to do so. This creates a level of discomfort and lack of transparency where the buyer does not have much of a choice since they may not know an Attorney or Home Inspector, and finding one on Google may be a worse option than trusting their Realtor® and accept the chance of being charged extra. 

Surveys also showed home buyers want to look at homes through the entire buying process. Even while renting and near-zero perspectives of buying a home they want to look at home, whether to see what’s out there or to fantasize into buying. This search becomes more narrow as the buyer takes actual steps into the process. For example, once he/she gets pre-qualified they’ll narrow their search to the amount they qualify for. Once they start visiting open houses on their budget, they’ll narrow down further to those homes they find more attractive -be it size, style, age of the property, or neighborhoods. 

What’s more, even those homeowners still look at home all the time, whether to see home prices in the neighborhoods or planning next home purchase. 

Discussion

Taking all the feedback from surveys and professionals plus mine years of experience, I came up with a solution to address all the current issues but allow flexibility to tackle future challenges fo the Real Estate transaction. We call this solution PadBlock. 

PadBlock name is comprised of two words: Pad -a playful name for a home-, and Block as in blockchain a technology tool we plan to leverage to solve current and future challenges. 

Homebuyers

Positive Findings

Through the past two years, the answers can be allocated into three buckets. 

  • Great idea, where do I sign up
    • PadBlock is designed around this user/home buyer. First time home buyer, tech-savvy, who is used to buying anything and everything with one click of the button after entering basic personal info. 
  • Great ideal, will it work?
    • This is a great customer sub-section. This customer will cross-reference and triple check every process. They will identify bugs, and provide the best feedback since they want the product to be successful, only if it could be better. 
  • I see what you are doing, but I prefer if the Realtor® does everything for me. 
    • Not the typical customer to the solution we propose. They are likely to be hand-off and hire whoever the Realtor® recommends and let the Realtor® handle all the topics until closing day. However, we propose that when comes time to sell this property, this particular customer might look at our product.

    • When buying a home the buyer does not pay the Realtor® directly, in fact, the home seller pays a commission to the seller Realtor® who splits it with the buyer’s Realtor®. A seller, looking at his home equity, minus taxes and fees, and minus a Realtor®’s commission might be interested in a platform which allows for maximum control and little reliance of the Realtor®’s behalf.  

Challenge Findings

There were challenging questions about our role in the marketplace and how our value prop compared with competitors. 

The most common question: 

  • “How are you different than Zillow/StreetEasy?”
    • Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, StreetEasy have millions of users on a daily basis, however, is fair to say they are in the business of showing inventory not transacting home purchases. We can spend hours on these sites, and our next best move is to scroll down to hire a Realtor® who paid lots of money to be a Realtor® of choice for this particular zip code. Not by performance or high reviews, but because they pay the most to be shown on all searches in this particular zip code. 
    • Our solution will allow a home buyer to browse homes and when ready apply for a mortgage, next choose a Realtor®, and so on; all within a single platform. 

The only surprise was highlighted above in the results, where we learned home buyers want to look at homes during the entire process -whether or not they are in the market, whether or not they get approved.  

To extrapolate the results one can say browsing homes is a national past time, while a percentage of the population engages in an active manner -getting pre-approved and pursuing a home purchase-, it is as addictive as scrolling on Instagram or Pinterest. 

For those who decide to act on the desire to own a home, whether is a goal or a financial decision, the current process seems archaic and not designed for them. The current generation of home buyers are used to ‘one click’ purchases, able to cross-check/fact-check statements and data provided, sort by highly rated (1-5 stars on Amazon), and expect lightning-fast results. As such, the proposal of a single platform where they can browse homes, choose a lender, Realtor®, attorney -which are rated 1-5 stars- is an appealing proposal. Adding that it offers transparency in the process by putting the buyer in charge of hiring professionals -as opposed to current process by which the Realtor® recommends his/her team-, and making the transaction mostly digital adds confidence. 

In an era of Amazon, Zappos, and Carvana the market is ready for a complex-digital transaction solution such as PadBlock. 

Professionals

Positive Findings:

As a licensed Realtor® when I talk to other professionals they drop their guard and speak honestly. At the thought of a proposed dashboard, with all professionals in one place and full visibility into all tasks due; the feedback has been a hard yes.  

Challenging Findings:

There were challenging questions, and most revolve around the role the Realtor® is accustom to play: the quarterback of the transaction, the one with access to inventory and access to keys to show homes for sale. 

For example:

  • “Homebuyers want to be taken by the hand, guided through the process, do as little as possible.”
  • “We prefer to introduce professionals to the home buyer. We already have a working relationship, and know/like how to work with them.”

This feedback is in line with a large body of professionals used to a business process which works for them, there isn’t a direct challenge to our proposal except that it will change the mechanics and power held by the Realtor®s. 

Limitations

This document reflects my personal and professional experience as well as the research performed in the last two years (2017-2019). Any limitations in scope and depth are a direct result of the research done. I expect to follow up in the near future with a follow-up document with more resources, more surveys, and direct results of taking PadBlock live into the market. 

A question that remains unanswered, is whether users and Realtor®s would, in fact, sign up for the live site PadBlock once released. We have sufficient proof in surveys and interviews, but true validation can only come from users creating a login and password, and completing the entire process on PadBlock as designed. 

Conclusions

This research shows the large majority of buyers want to be in control of the transaction, want more guidance, education, and resources to make better decisions. The ideal target market buys on Amazon and sorts by star rating; why not do the same for Real Estate professionals? 

This study focus on first time home buyers, current renters mid to late 20s. Those who’ve bought a home in the past, as complex and obscure as the transaction may be, already know the process and are likely to have a ‘relationship’ with a Realtor® and would likely go this route.  National Association of Realtor®s notes repeat business is high as 19% for the average Realtor®.  

Professionals, Realtor®s in particular, have been building ‘teams’ or ‘one stop shops’ for the last ten years. They know how these other professionals work and are set into a pattern. However, this could work to the detriment to the home buyer (and client to whom they own fedutiary duties). There will be resistance to this change, as noted on research feedback/pushback. 

Future

With the market tendencies for users to take more hands-on in the transaction: search inventory, sort vendors, research statements about quality, etc. is easy to forecast a future where the Realtor® does less and is compensated less. This isn’t to say there isnt a role for a Realtor®, after all someone has to get they keys from a seller and show the house to a stranger. However, nearly every other role played today by the Realtor® can be replaced by software. By relaying on software -such as PadBlock- the average Real Estate Professional can do more deals, while spending less time on each transaction. 

In this not so far away future Realtor®s could be doing four times as many deals, doing 1/10th of the current work, and earning a much smaller comission fee. 

On the other hand homebuyers, sellers, and renters will have a much better user experience as they will be mostly in control of the transaction. Since buying and selling will be cheaper -reduced Realtor®’s fee- there could be greater mobility whether for career or pleasure. 

2 thoughts on “A case for a new path for the Real Estate Industry, leveraging technology to reduce the role of the Realtor®s leading to a better user experience.

  1. “The current generation of home buyers are used to ‘one click’ purchases, able to cross-check/fact-check statements and data provided, sort by highly rated (1-5 stars on Amazon), and expect lightning-fast results. As such, the proposal of a single platform where they can browse homes, choose a lender, Realtor®, attorney -which are rated 1-5 stars- is an appealing proposal.”

    Buying a home is not like watching Netflix or ordering an Uber/Lyft. This constant push for “instant” real estate transactions is a fool’s errand if you ask me. I don’t buy the argument that buyers need, or even want, to buy $700,000 (or $1.5M) homes with a click of a button.

    Like

    1. Amazon & Carvana don’t offer a ‘one click’ purchase option, but is darn close.

      Imagine if you spend two weeks on Zillow/Trulia, etc, and with a number of clicks you get a loan, make an appointment to see the homes you favored, and hire an attorney, inspector, and title.

      Thats the future.

      Today’s transaction lacks transparency, is inefficient, and digital. So 1990’s.

      Like

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