Most local realtors remember a time when houses were advertised for sale through postcard campaigns with hand-glued black-and-white photos distributed in the local neighborhoods.
Interested clients waited for the Sunday paper to browse the home listings, and realtors actually had to visit a house to judge whether it met clients’ search criteria.
“Today, you’ve got multiple professional photos, virtual tours and professional videos,” said Denise Welsh, chairwoman of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors’ Los Altos/Mountain View District.
Welsh, who has been in the real estate industry since 1986, currently works at Intero Real Estate Services. The only old technology she still uses is the telephone, which has also evolved.
“Though portable and sometimes used to send a message in text form, (the phone) is still the most essential tool in our business,” she said.
While Welsh acknowledged that technology has made it much easier to work with buyers in some ways, the changes have altered the realtor’s role in many others. Fred Hibbert, manager of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Los Altos and a 22-year industry veteran, said technology has created the challenge of staying constantly connected with clients and contacts.
“You need to have a smartphone, check email continuously – it’s a time-management issue,” he said. “The ability to respond to client inquiries quickly separates productive agents from ones who aren’t.”
Clients no longer have to wait for a realtor to select homes to show them. With the Internet business booming, Welsh estimated that 95 percent of clients start their property searches online.
Ubiquitous use of the Internet complicates matters, Hibbert said, because online information is often out of date. “Sometimes agents do research on a property a client found on the Internet and the property has been sold for over a year,” he said. “It’s old information that was posted and never removed. It’s frustrating.”
Chris Trapani, president and CEO of Sereno Group Real Estate, who has worked in the real estate business for two decades, said sorting through such confusion and frustration is now a defining element of a realtor’s value.
“It remains difficult for one to know which information is reliable or accurate,” Trapani said, citing value-estimator sites as particularly misleading. “There is no program that has been able to articulate and specifically define the nuances of each particular market, with local considerations. … This role remains squarely on the agent.” The realtor’s role, Trapani said, has “transitioned more from a holder of information to a trusted adviser.” Technological advances are not the sole cause of the shift. Increasing government regulations and foreclosure requirements, as well as the turbulent economy, have forced realtors to make changes in the way they interact with clients.
“We carry a greater responsibility in advising our clients and ensuring the accuracy of what we deliver to the public on their behalf,” Welsh said.
“Seventy percent of the paper necessary in a transaction is the result of new law, regional practices and material facts or a lawsuit filed against sellers and their agents.”
Misleading mass information and an uptick in disclosure requirements and short sales, compounded by the distressed environment of the past four years, are factors Trapani identified as contributing to the new role of the realtor.
“Relationships and trust are more critical than ever between the realtor and client,” he said. “Service and quick-response communication is … in many ways expected.” Now, “the realtor is as much a transaction manager as a salesperson … and they must be market experts,” Hibbert said. “The realtor is a resource.”
Hibbert said he is certain that the specific, localized expertise only a realtor can offer will keep realtors in the center of transactions in coming years.
“No matter how many photos or videos a client views on the Internet, they still want to talk with a trusted expert about nuances in the local community,” he said. “There’s always going to be value in that.”