The day of the individual real estate agent is coming to an end.
Before we get to this, let’s turn the clock back.
For generations, the real estate transaction began with a consumer seeking out a real estate professional. From there, there was an interview or meet-and-greet, and off the two went. Agents would work their channels to find properties by calling brokers, looking in papers, you name it. It was hard. The process was slow and time-consuming. However, the key here is that the home buyer came to the agent first. “First” — that’s an important word to this discussion. As the first professional a consumer engaged, the agent was the trusted source who controlled the entire process. The consumer would allow the agent to make their recommendations, and the agent would connect consumers with other trusted sources. Agents controlled the process, beginning to end.
Fast forward to around 2006, when something started changing in the industry. The internet started allowing home buyers to do some upfront leg work. Consumers could now find their own homes online. Home search became a consumer-first play. A company called Zillow created a tool that would change why home buyers were going online: to check the value of their biggest asset. In my opinion, this was one of the best ideas in real estate to this day. It clicked, and consumers noticed they could actually search for homes on the internet as well. What’s more, they arguably got more information online than any real estate agent could give them. It caught on.
In the golden years, agents would recommend their preferred lenders to their clients. It was a transaction based on trust, and consumers did trust the process. The term “shopping around” was rarely used in relation to mortgage brokers. It all started with the agent — agent first.
This all changed with the arrival of web search as lenders began to utilize these platforms. By advertising, they now got to the consumer first. Lenders started to control the top of the funnel and get to consumers before the agents did. A lightbulb went off: Could lenders, not agents, control the process if they could be first?
But there was still one big problem. While consumers were now starting to call lenders first, there was a missing link: agent connection. Lenders would take prequalifications on consumers, yet the conversions weren’t there. Why? After all, they got to the buyer first.
The answer was that the consumer was still finding their own agent. The lender was getting sidelined by the real estate agent, who suggested the client use their lender. The deal from the originating bank was then lost.
So, what happened? Lenders began to realize the value in a network of trusted agents who understood that lending didn’t need to be done on a local level. And so it began: Lenders would build this network of trusted, experienced, proven agents. They would connect an agent with a client. Agents would do their part in ensuring the client was comfortable with that lender, and from there, closing ratios soared.
It was good for the lender, the agent and the client. Having all parties on the same page sounds like a win-win to me.
The last piece to master was top-of-funnel inquiries. How would that go? By firms owning the entire process and having accountability to consumers. How would they do that? By building a network of trusted agents. You’ve noticed the theme here?
This brings us to where we are today.
Who Owns The Client Experience?
The biggest brand names in search and mortgage understand the value of owning the entire client experience. Major institutions are spending millions of dollars to build a framework of trusted sources they can direct their clients to in the real estate process. It’s smart. It’s good business. And it’s good for the consumer.
In the golden years, consumers would hope they had found a great agent. They hoped they were working with a great lender. Today’s process minimizes that risk, and that’s a good thing.
The consumer is incentivized to utilize these trusted services. Think about that for a minute: Buyers are given the opportunity to work with a proven real estate professional and lender all because they begin their home search on one particular website or because they call one particular mortgage company to get prequalified, and they’re actually incentivized to do so. Who would say no to that?
And how does someone compete with that? Real estate agents, think about where you used to get clients from. Has that slowed down? Has it been more challenging to find more clients? There is a reason: You are not first in line anymore.
So, what do agents do?
As the consumer becomes increasingly difficult to capture, many agents have a decision to make. We can fight the fight or look to partner up with those who can provide more opportunities to succeed: teams and brokers who have these relationships. It seems like an easy answer; however, taking a backseat to process, systems and splits is a tough pill to swallow for many. But the question is: Now that real estate is a B2B business, do you really have a choice?