Find your real estate technology niche and avoid the productivity parasites

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Real estate folks love technology. Tech can make our lives more entertaining and interesting. It can make us more efficient and productive in our workplaces. Technology, in some way, contributes to most of our top industry conversations today.

There seems to be a disconnect, though, in the way we treat technology vs. the other components of our lives. Compared to other conduits that deliver either production for our business or enjoyment for our personal time, technology seems to get a free pass to slide between business and pleasure, work time and play time, without a lot of scrutiny.

While our leisure time may be free-wheeling, in business we select our attire based on the appropriate local customs and with the intention of a presenting a proper appearance to the customer. We hire employees who adhere to the brand image we hope to achieve, and who will work within our company guidelines to support our goals. We choose business locations that are accessible and practical for both our employees and our customers. We select advertising venues based on analytics and market research. In short, the vast majority of business decisions we make are very functional, rational and painstakingly analyzed to ensure they are beneficial to our bottom line.

Then, we buy a new Samsung Galaxy Gear watch. We bring it into the office and yell, “Hey, everybody, come away from your desks and check this out!” It doesn’t sync correctly with the brand-new Samsung phone that we had to buy to make it work, so it’s off to our desk to spend an hour searching online for syncing instructions.

For the next few hours, we entertain ourselves and our office mates with our new “business tool.” We make a couple of quick showoff calls, re-enact scenes from “Dick Tracy” and “Knight Rider,” track down the phone numbers that the cellular store missed, download apps again, and try to figure out the new Android operating system. We justify this as staying out on the leading edge of technology and taking the time to learn.

This investment in technology was important to our business because, after all, the old iPhone 5 still sitting on our desk couldn’t possibly have received calls from our clients, checked our email, or saved documents to the office database.

This behavioral pattern pervades the way we interact with technology. We search out solutions to problems that we don’t have. We spend time and money downloading new apps because we’ve heard everyone else already has, without even considering if they will actually make our workday better. We try to connect on a half-dozen different social media platforms because we don’t want to be left out anywhere. We switch devices and operating systems between Windows, Apple and Android only to find that we must relearn everything we already knew. Do we make these decisions because we have a need for an improvement in our business processes, or merely because someone else said they worked well for their purposes?

New technology allows us to distract ourselves from good technology. There are great new products coming out every day, but only a tiny percentage of them fulfill one of your specific, personal needs. When those perfect products arrive, they hit us like a ton of bricks. The rest are just shiny baubles hoping for wandering eyes.

Real estate agents should be acutely aware of the inordinate number of trinkets being dangled in front of them. In our industry, agents are the coveted source of income for nearly every single technology player. Without agent income, portals, service providers and app creators would be selling advertising to soda companies. Convincing agents to sign up for a monthly service subscription is the holy grail, and it is in a tech provider’s best interest to convince you to take time and resources away from your company to invest in their new product, no matter the relevance to your bottom line. That’s just business.

These side distractions can be attractive because they let us experience plenty of variety, but they also dilute the amount of attention we have available for our priorities. The daily onslaught of new tech ideas tempts us to dip our toes into as many things as possible while at the same time sapping the resources we have available to focus on our most successful ventures.

It’s easy to drown in a sea of mediocre technology attempts. Few of us have the energy or the time to be great at everything. The late Pat Morita, aka Mr. Miyagi (insert deep bow of reverence), put it best:

“Either you karate do ‘yes’ or karate do ‘no.’ You karate do ‘guess so,’ *squish* just like grape.”

To be effective with technology, you have to be truly good at something — not all technology, but some facet of it. Saying that you are using technology in your business is like saying you use paper in your business. It means nothing. Making a specific piece of technology deliver superior measurable results and then devoting yourself to maximizing that specific output, on the other hand, takes the kind of discipline that creates a truly effective, standout business.

It helps to take the glossy shine off of a piece of technology before evaluating its place in your work atmosphere. As flashy or new as it is, it’s merely a tool to improve your business. If it does that without diverting attention from your core functions, use it. If not, leave it alone. If it asks you for permission to send push notifications, take it out back and bury it.

Some professionals truly are rock stars on a social media platform and regularly generate new clients with it. Their successes make the rest of us want to “try it out” and see if we can do the same, but few of us commit to a single platform in the kind of meaningful way that will actually translate to success. We just give it a shot, and then wonder why it didn’t work the way we imagined.

We’ve all made these mistakes. From spending too much time “networking” with industry types on Twitter to having long discussions in Facebook real estate groups, I personally know that often I’m just socializing and not focusing on lead generation. Networking with peers is valuable, but only if you admit to yourself that you’re socializing, and look at its position on the priority list. It makes the decision to close those browser tabs for a few hours at a time a bit easier. When I’ve taken back much of that time and devoted it to more blogging/writing, it has translated into more effective use of my time and greater Web referral traffic. Content marketing and SEO are where my team’s bread is buttered, and the less time I spend on that arena, the less business we do.

That’s not to say that trying a new technology once in a while is a bad thing. Social media can be very successful for the right personality type, if it’s approached with a plan and a determination to measure its success. Engaging potential customers on Facebook, building a consumer following on Twitter, or curating a local community on Pinterest might be the niche that motivates you and brings you business success. Email marketing, SEO or video blogging might be the arenas that your abilities really mesh with. Just don’t try to do them all. If you can focus on one or two of those areas, and measurably show that they translate into business, stick to them. Once you realize that you’re very good at generating business through one of those particular avenues, the temptation to water down your productivity by taking on new ventures will be much smaller.

Imploring you to find your niche is nothing new. The message just needs a stronger, more specific frame of reference to cut through the ubiquitous halo marketing that surrounds technology. There is no such thing as a broad niche, and there is no such thing as a “technology specialist.” To truly maximize your ability to leverage technology, you need to find the platform that complements your skill set and own it. Don’t let the distractions of new and exciting toys avert your vision from the functions that generate business for you. Then, if you still really must buy that new smartphone watch for your personal enjoyment, go ahead. Just save the “Star Trek” re-enactments for happy hour.


  • 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.