I like to call it “Terminator 3 – Rise of the Machines” as I compare the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from 2003 to what’s currently going on in the real estate market. The Internet continues to turn out tech companies masquerading as real estate companies (aka Zillow, Redfin, etc.) who are using the real estate industry to roll out their tech savvy websites and search engines. I must admit, it does dazzle the eyes and in many ways their websites can be helpful in finding information with regards to the real estate market. But that’s where it ends.
Being part of a traditional real estate brokerage where professionals who faithfully receive training and hone their practice by handling the “potential minefield” that can be a real estate transaction, I have seen first hand (many times) that although these disruptive companies do offer great search materials, their brokers (at least from what I have seen in Western Washington) suffer from very little training and the necessary skills to adequately represent the clients that are coming to them via their flashy websites. It looks good from the outside but sometimes it has a hook in it.
My first question always is why do these tech savvy real estate companies have to offer a rebate? I have always found in retail marketing that the only reason that someone has to offer a rebate or discount on their product or service is because either their product or service is inferior, or they truly cannot compete with their competitors on a level playing field. They say traditional real estate brokerages charge too much for their services. Really? Would you go into a court of law without a practicing attorney who specializes in the field that you need representation in? I wouldn’t. Most of the public have no idea what a real estate professional does and the potential complexities of transactions that may need to be handled. The tech companies masquerading as real estate firms say that they offer “full service”, but in reality, that full service is done by unskilled labor. I can say I am a full service doctor, but I guarantee you wouldn’t want me operating on you!
I recently read an article that Redfin has made a “Referral Relationship” with the real estate giant RE/MAX. I worked for RE/MAX for quite a few years before starting Jet Realty and one of their biggest assets is their agents. I attended many larger conventions while working for them and the agents are top notch when it comes to integrity and skill. So why would Redfin partner with them in a so called “referral relationship”? I think the answer is easy. Redfin agents lack the experience and professionalism in our industry and it’s a glaring problem. They may be able to get a client from the rebates and discount commissions, but I would imagine they rarely get repeat business because their lack of experience and good training in a demanding field. RE/MAX’s strength is the good agents and Redfin will need them to be credible going forward.
Rise of the Machines? Maybe for a time, but real estate will never be taken over by the machines and tech savvy real estate companies completely. People will always be relevant because they can add what a machine cannot, professional service with a human touch.
Jim Perry is a Realtor and the Designated Broker and Owner of Jet Realty in University Place, WA