Poised for a Sea Change

If the real estate industry expects to have a bright future, agents must come into the business armed with technological savvy.

January 21, 2014

If it’s not entirely obvious why a new generation of tech-savvy practitioners is necessary for the health of the real estate industry, the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2013 Member Profile should make it clearer.

In this latest Profile, which offers insight into the demographics, business practices, and day-to-day activities of active REALTORS®, a picture emerges of an aging professional struggling to make sense of new tools and technologies amidst a sea of contradictory messages from colleagues and clients. Perhaps the most widely discussed takeaway from the profile is the increasing median age of the U.S. REALTOR®. The median age has risen from 51 to 57 since 2007. That means practitioners are staying in the field longer, while fewer have entered the business in the past six years.

According to the Profile, nearly half of members rarely or never use transaction management software, a CRM system, loan analysis software, or social media management tools. Only 5 percent use blogs daily, 4 percent use RSS feeds, and 1 percent use podcasts.

Technology Use Isn’t a Choice

These aren’t agents who haven’t caught up with technology trends. They’re agents who believe they will exit the business before their lack of familiarity with these tools becomes a prohibitive disadvantage. As younger people come into the business, we will see a tipping point where smart use of modern technologies becomes an expected competence for all agents, not a novelty for a select few.

I often have the opportunity to speak with real estate professionals about technology, and it’s amazing to me how many of them—even in 2013—maintain that experience is more important than use of modern technologies. They act as if using these technologies is a choice.

The relationship between technology and experience is not competition but collaboration. In my view, if you’ve chosen a side, you’ve already lost. Success in 2014 and beyond depends upon smart deployment of modern technology in the service of time-tested sales and -relationship-building techniques.

Attracting a Younger Crowd

The encouraging news is that the stage is set to attract more younger professionals in 2014. In a recent survey of 5,138 new-agent leads—or potential hires—that we generated for 368 Keller Williams market centers in 43 states, more than 68 percent were under the age of 35. Keller Williams team leaders tell us they are seeing the same thing in their own recruiting efforts: About two-thirds of potential recruits are 35 and under.

As the head of a company that is responsible for generating new-agent leads for residential real estate brokerages, I am as interested in the motivations for new agents entering the business as I am the demographics of these new agents. And it’s in this area that I see the potential for an abrupt shift among the young, tech-savvy crowd.

According to the 2013 Member Profile, the median income of REALTORS® surged from $34,900 in 2011 to $43,500 in 2012. Meanwhile, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2013 Salary Survey, the average starting income for a college graduate is $45,327. Although less-experienced practitioners typically earn much less than the median, the surge means a career in real estate sales will now look more appealing to recent college grads who are attracted to the unlimited earning potential of the business.

Real estate is an industry with a host of favorable conditions: technological resources, substantial revenue opportunities, and stabilizing market forces. In 2014, expect to see an increasingly educated, tech-savvy base of professionals leading the charge for disruptive innovation throughout the industry.

Note: Opinions expressed in “Commentary” do not necessarily reflect the position of the National Association of REALTORS® or REALTOR® Magazine.Submit commentary ideas to wcole@realtors.org.

Casey Wright is cofounder and CEO of Wright Brothers Inc., a real estate marketing technology company that specializes in lead—generating websites for real estate agents and brokerages. He can be reached at casey@wrightbrosinc.com.