On-demand showings: Uber-like innovation or bait-and-switch?

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Showings on demand: They’re all the rage in real estate tech innovation right now. Everyone is crying “Uber,” and on-demand is the latest amplifier.Hobizbo and Redfin introduced their pitches this week. Curb Call andAgentPair are already working in this space.

The idea is simple. Consumers want their transportation, their food and their shopping to happen instantly. They have been trained to expect that the best tech companies will deliver the results they want faster. From a tech mindset, home showings are a natural next step.

Connected, organized, integrated showing systems have great appeal to our industry. The marketing of these systems as on-demand showings, however, muddles the picture. Consumers who buy into the marketing might just be swallowing a bait-and-switch — hook, line and sinker.

The hook: On-demand

“Instant appointments, instant offers, instant gratification.” That’s the sales pitch of one on-demand outlet and the allure of the term. The hook makes a consumer think that it might take a few minutes for the agent to get to the house, but on-demand must be faster than calling another agent.

If a company has a lot of agents out in the field who can respond to these showing requests in short order, it could be an improvement for the efficiency of showings.

There’s opportunity here for big brokerages and offices. There are also dozens of reasons why it might not the best way to conduct showings for sellers, brokers — or even the buyers themselves — but that’s a separate conversation.

This is about lead generation and conversion. Getting consumers to believe homes are available on-demand is enough to garner their contact information. That’s goal No. 1 in lead gen.

It’s also enough to make consumers believe they don’t need to call anyone else. Because they’ve already input their on-demand request, they’ll feel comfortable waiting for that company to fulfill their request instead of calling around until someone answers. That’s a big win for lead conversion.

The line: Schedule your showing time

The scheduling feature of showing systems is a step in the right direction — on its own. If we can standardize the systems and make them available to more markets, we’ll be improving our workplaces and consumer satisfaction with the process.

There are some other showing software tools that allow buyers to schedule showing times with agents as well. As long as a consumer is notified responsibly about the likelihood of seller constraints and lead time before a showing is likely, this is good for real estate.

The more we can electronically organize a showing between two agents, two sellers and two buyers, the better all of our experiences will be.

Tech companies should be applauded for their continued improvement of the streamlining of scheduled showings.

The sinker: Reality and consumer trust

Brokers know most homes are not really available on-demand. Listings can have restricted showing hours or require that the listing agent accompany the buyers at the showing.

They have occupants, guests or children who are home. They work night shifts or just don’t pick up the phone to confirm a showing time. Often we have to wait for a listing agent to receive our call, call their client and relay the message back again that the showing time is OK.

Giving consumers the impression that on-demand showings are our standard practice — as opposed to a fortuitous, infrequent occurrence — is more base than innovative.

Like the ads that say, “I’ll sell your home in 90 days, or I’ll buy it!” Let’s not obsess over the questionable sales pitch as if it has changed the dynamics of the transaction.

Anyone who has worked in real estate for a significant amount of time knows that the majority of our showings require more than getting an alert from a buyer and running for the door.

If we’re totally honest with consumers, we can offer them the ability to schedule an appointment with the caveat that it might not be available.

A system that integrates the sellers’ schedules and seamlessly contacts sellers, buyers and their agents to streamline showings would be a huge boon to most real estate markets.

On the other hand, on-demand holds a flashy treat out to the buying public. When consumers order it, half of them get their two-day-shipping Amazon Prime packages delivered four days later.

We know that’s what will happen when we advertise on-demand. The question for brokers is: Are we willing to offer something we can’t deliver for the sake of getting the lead, and then apologize later?

In real estate, there’s no such thing as instant gratification. Let’s not pretend there is and confuse our customers in the process.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and a director for WA Realtors and Seattle King County Realtors.  You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.


  • 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.