Realtors try to convince clients they’re still needed, even in the Internet age
People buy all kinds of things on the Internet. Cars, TVs, computers, clothes and even groceries get sold at various online retailers. But if you’re thinking of buying your house solely on the web, several Charlotte-area Realtors say – not so fast.
More and more agents in the modern real estate world find themselves almost replaced by the web. Buyers come to their initial meetings or home tours armed with gigabytes of data and hours of research. And while some Realtors say this can be a good thing, for others it is a source of frustration with buyers and sellers acting like they don’t need a licensed professional at all.
For Lori Bee, a Union County Realtor with Charlotte-based Allen Tate Co., dealing with buyers who think they’ve got it all figured out thanks to the web can be frustrating.
“I had a customer who came to me and said he wanted to live in the Albemarle Road and north area,” Bee said. “But a lot of the listings he brought to me were outside that geographic area. Customers do need us and I think it is a misnomer to say that we are being replaced.”
The worst experience for some Realtors is the feeling that the Internet-friendly buyer or seller is really just wasting everyone’s time. Lisa Archer, a Charlotte Realtor with Austin, Texas-based Keller Williams, has seen her fair share of time waster thanks to the web.
“A friend called me and said her buyers from California were killing her,” Archer said. “They sent her a list from the Internet. She drove around and found four houses they wanted to see but two were under contract and two didn’t meet their criteria. She told them driving around or searching was fine, but this kind of thing was wasting everyone’s time.”
But Archer is no Luddite when it comes to new technologies in the real estate world. In fact, she’s the farthest thing from a techno-phobe with her own blog she co-writes with fellow Realtor Laurie Davis as The Geeky Girls at www.thegeekygirls.com. Her agency also has launched its own mobile app, which she calls a measure to stem the tide of bad information clients get from various lists on the Internet.
“I had a client who was pulling listings from Trulia and they were like four years out of date,” Archer said. “The average buyer goes to four websites if they’re techie and they have their list. I have to convince the buyers that I have their best interest in mind and am looking for the very specific criteria they told me. We’ve gone so far as to have our own app now because we want to be sure that we have the right information that is up-to-date and we get all kinds of notifications when people use it.”
Bee said she tries not to get frustrated with buyers who are getting their information from the web and tries to see it from the buyer’s perspective.
“They don’t know what they don’t know,” Bee said. “I think some of it is the press and the overall perception that the listing info is out there and they can do it on their own. Until they try a transaction without us, then they’ll realize what they don’t know.”
Bee said she frequently cautions clients, and potential clients, that big name websites like Trulia and Zillow don’t always update information from the MLS. And often the Internet searchers are surprised when she tries to explain to them that estimated values on certain websites don’t always line up with values in the Charlotte-metro market.
“But the buyer wants to offer whatever the estimate is and they want to stick to it,” Bee said. “There is a lot of misinformation on the web – about real estate, healthcare or even cooking. We have a responsibility to advise our clients what the real picture is, but ultimately we have to present the offer as they direct us.”
And if that means the offer on a property is incredibly low balled and Bee knows it won’t be accepted, sometimes she just has to bite the bullet and make the offer. She’s been on the other side of that low offer, too, she said.
“I have had offers presented to me where the agents apologized for the offer because we both knew that it was too low,” Bee said.
For Debe Maxwell, owner of Charlotte-based Savvy+Co. Real Estate, clients using the Internet generally starts with a frustrating case of mistaken identity.
“I get calls all the time for other people’s listings and they think that I’m the listing agent,” Maxwell said. “I’ll meet them in person, but when they say, we’ve got a bunch of other appointments lined up I’ll state the importance of having their own representation.”
She said she sees many people who pull their list of homes they want to tour, then call and make appointments themselves.
“I’ll get to the house and they’ll see my name is not on the sign,” she said. “Then they get that ‘aha’ moment and I see they were looking for the listing agent. I give them my spiel which usually works in person.”
Archer’s app helps her firm get around the cases of mistaken identity.
“The app is a one stop shop from A to Z and it only calls us, it doesn’t call the listing agent,” Archer said. “Typically when buyers send me a list, I try to work with them. But some people are serial lookers and they want to go out a lot of times and see one house per trip. That’s a waste of time.”
Maxwell agreed that the web can be a time-waster as clients miss the important details. But most of all, she said they don’t realize how much of a Realtor’s job is not about providing information and home tours, but about being a competent negotiator.
“You need your own representation in any deal,” Maxwell said. “It really is bothersome that some of these sites have estimates that are far too low. The disclaimer on some of these sites mentions that, but who reads the disclaimers?”
Bee added that web is not as much of a time saver for Realtors as many people think.
“Who do you think is putting the photos and slideshows on the web?” she said. “The Internet has made it more work for us but easier for the consumer. Keeping all those listings up to date and looking good is time-consuming. We’re blogging, doing videos, topography, virtual tours and then providing event information.”
And she had one final warning about the idea of the web replacing the Realtor: “If anyone thinks the Internet is going to replace us, I would caution them to remember “2001: A Space Odyssey” and what happened with HAL 9000.”
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