Buyer beware: the real estate technology prognosticator

This article was originally posted on Inman News:

For agents hoping to incorporate more technology into their real estate businesses, the wide-ranging advice can be overwhelming. Brokers, agents, vendors, coaches, and technology celebrities all have different ideas on how you should focus your efforts and the expectations that you should have for your success.

It’s tempting to try to do a little bit of everything.

The low-hanging fruit is the latest online product, app or social media craze. With a new prognosticator stating that “this is the one thing every agent should be doing” every week, it can be difficult to resist dipping your toe into all of the newest technological ventures. Since many of them are free, the low barrier to entry encourages a “try everything” approach.

Technology is important

A lot of great real estate companies and teams have leveraged it for huge successes. It’s the foundation of my team’s business model. The infatuation with new technology can create problems for our businesses, though, when we allow the buzz of a popular medium to distract us from what we’re ultimately trying to do: sell more homes.

Technology is useful to our business only when it creates relationships, brand identity recognition or process efficiency, all of which result in more sales and profits. Jumping on every tech bandwagon that rolls through town is easy because it’s interesting. Starting a new project every month is exciting. Doing the same thing over and over, and improving, on the other hand, is boring but effective. The newest model is not always the best.

The same could be said for the kinds of figures we trust for the advice that shapes our careers. Gary Keller preaches a focus on doing the one thing that makes you more successful. That doesn’t have a lot of flash and variety to it, but it clearly leads to great business outcomes. Coaches like Tom Ferry produce successful real estate protégés over and over. The message: Meet people, be organized, have systems.That’s not nearly as much fun as a 90-day business plan to grow an Instagram following, but the track record is clear.

There are a lot of great ways to use technology in real estate and grow a long-term business, but it takes the discipline to stay focused on what the technology will bring to your business model, and not how much you’ll enjoy using that technology. We’re all guilty of getting distracted at times. My own business strays toward online interactions and neglects the real-life connections we have too often. It’s something that real estate pros ought to ask themselves regularly: How will this affect my bottom line?

The frenzy of technology advice for agents can be seen at its best and its worst in the latest conferences and online discussion groups. I recently attended a great tech conference for the real estate industry where a lot of high-quality speakers brought truly insightful tools for us. Some have cut down the time it takes our business to do some menial transactional tasks. Others have allowed us to more quickly make connections with consumers online, and are generating new clients and sales.

Still, other technology speakers drift into Steve Jobs land when we’re looking for a Bob Vila. We’ve all heard speeches that implore us to become a “thought leader,” “disruptive,” or to “curate the scent of our brand.” While refocusing on high-level ideas is useful, the vast majority of real estate agents are looking for a concrete business plan to close sales. The stage at a big venue can sometimes allow us to deviate from our goals and overstate the actual impact this advice will have on our businesses.

The rumble of technology advice on social media is much the same

There are a handful of groups that continually share valuable business-building conversations, technology tips and “best practices.” These are discussions that many of us would not be able to take part in, or even observe, without the social media collaboration tools used to support them, and our businesses are far better for it.

Unfortunately, we also have to filter through the endless comments by the chattering class who freely admit to doing very little business online, but also profess to know which technologies will work best and which ones are worthless. The information is often verifiably incorrect, but it can be hard to see through the frenzied discussions.

There are new media stars telling us every day in which new direction we should take our businesses. Some are truly visionary. Others have no real track record or vision for translating success to our businesses whatsoever.

If you needed advice on how to build a referral network, you’d go to the most successful referral-based agent in your office. Too often, though, when seeking technology advice, we listen to the cacophony of voices coming from folks who haven’t a clue about how to use technology to generate sales. Everyone has an opinion on technology. Only a fraction of those opinions have the credibility to be worth your time.

How can you tell if you’re talking to the right people about your technology strategy?

Ask them how many leads and sales they, or their clients, are generating through their online business. Without evidence of successful sales numbers, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Find someone who is translating technology into clients and sales, not celebrity. Ask about the amount of time and money a long-term campaign will actually take to produce those results for your own business. If it’s not a long-term campaign, it’s probably too good to be true.

In the end, you may find that technology is actually not the direction you’ll take to make your real estate career work. There are still more successful agents knocking on doors, networking, getting on the phone and farming with mailers than those who are truly successful with a primary technology focus. Great success can be found online, but your bottom line happens offline. Stay focused on your goal of selling real estate and find successful processes to model. If technology happens to be the road to fulfilling that business plan, find credible advisers first, then develop the plan to be long-term and specific in scope. All that’s left, online or offline, is to repeat daily.


  • All opinions expressed herein are personal opinions and do not constitute the position or views of any organization. Sam DeBord is CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). He has two decades of experience in the real estate industry, spanning real estate brokerages, mortgage lending, and technology consulting. He has served as President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management with the National Association of REALTORS®, a REACH mentor, and on the board of directors for NAR, Second Century Ventures, and California Regional MLS. Sam began his career as a management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is a recognized real estate industry writer for publications including REALTOR® Magazine, Inman News, and the Axiom Business Books Award-Winning Swanepoel Trends Report.