Every week, we ask a Houston real estate professional for their thoughts on the top three stories from the week before.
This week, we talked with Jeff Burke, a former high-end custom homebuilder and founder of NuHabitat.
Houston Agent (HA): One of our stories that got quite a bit of attention was how to turn renters into owners. Homeownership today is more affordable than at any time in the history of NAR’s Affordability Index, yet renting is skyrocketing in some spots of Houston. How would you recommend agents go about showing the value of homeownership to clients?
Jeff Burke (JB): Agents today are faced more than ever with having to defend their value proposition. The question consumers are asking more than ever is, ”Do I really need an agent?”
One reason, among others, that people are renting rather than owning is because they are scared. We have just gone through the single worst housing downturn since WWII. Frequently, consumers will begin a home search 12 to 18 months before they are ready to purchase, and that time period provides an agent the opportunity to reach potential clients by educating them through blogging or establishing a non-intrusive, collaborative experience that allows the consumer to guide the process until they are ready to get serious. Consumers want information, but they don’t want to be pushed and feel like they are working with an agent that is only concerned if the client is ready to buy in the next 30 days. Consumers will be looking for information on properties, neighborhoods, schools, lifestyles, relocation, market conditions and more.
Providing consumers with information they can easily interpret – rather than throwing an overwhelming amount of statistics at them – is preferable. Finding a way to stay engaged on a deeper level than just emailers and drip marketing is important. Just don’t turn in to the equivalent of a spammer when cultivating the relationship. Do a little hand-holding. This helps alleviate the fear of buying and gives your clients the confidence to become an owner rather than a renter.
HA: Our story on syndication has garnered a lot of interest. Can you speak to the benefits of online syndication for an agent’s listings?
JB: There is simply one benefit. Exposure. The question should be more focused on what kind of exposure you want, as well as the quality. Syndication can serve a purpose, but as stated in your post “Which Site is the Best: Zillow, Trulia or Realtor.com?”, the decision must be made as to what benefits the syndication provide you personally. What is your ROI? Is it necessary in the Houston market with HAR?
One of the member benefits of HAR is automatic syndication when a listing is put in the MLS. HAR has one of the better relationships with Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com in terms of keeping the information updated and accurate.
I personally believe agents should seek out ways to improve the display of their listings and allow for a more transparent experience for people searching out a new home. Historically, agents have felt that their strongest value proposition is controlling the data that consumers have access to. Those days are gone, so rather than resist the display of data, agents should embrace the display of data as long as it is accurate and maintains the highest level of integrity.
JB: In Houston, distinguishing yourself as an agent can be very challenging. The problem we experience is that all the whole consumer experience from one brokerage to the next is exactly the same. All the brokerages (for the most part) rely exclusively on the tools provided by the Association to operate their business. I personally believe that has stifled innovation and creativity for Houston brokerages.
There are several ways to rise above the rest. Professionalism, content, technology and expertise are a few that come to mind.
Professionalism: In many cases (and you may not want to hear this), real estate agents have a bad rap. They are thought of as a salesperson only interested in the commission. It is up to each agent to individually dispel this stereotype by exceeding the expectations of their clients. This includes punctuality, responsiveness, boundaries, integrity and respect – for themselves as well as their clients.
Content: Are you providing value to your potential clients in terms of content and relevant information to your community? This is not easy. The blogosphere has a large graveyard of abandoned blogs, but this does create an opportunity to engage your audience. Social interaction is equally important. If this comes as news to anyone reading this, you might think about a business coach.
Technology: You should be thinking paperless. Collaboration is a means to work with your clients that allows for a more efficient process, saving everyone time and aggravation. No more faxes and printed off listing pages. Get an iPad. Use Evernote, Dropbox and other applications to improve your productivity. And for god sakes, if you aren’t using a smartphone, go buy an iPhone tomorrow.
Expertise: It is not just about educating the consumer and your clients – educate yourself. Constantly be improving your knowledge on your market area, the economy and the process of buying or selling a home. There are too many agents out there that could stand to improve their personal competence as it applies to our industry. Raise the bar!
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