iBuyers are the latest threat to agents, offering lower listing fees, faster transactions and an online-based process that’s basically made for millennials (an important fact, considering millennials now make up a whopping 36%of all home sales.)
In most cases, agents can’t compete on those things — and they never will. But that doesn’t mean they’ve become moot or are on the edge of extinction, as many would have you believe. Like the story of David and Goliath, the big guy doesn’t always win. In fact, he might not have as much of a competitive edge as most would think.
Seeing iBuyers As An Opportunity
Despite adding another level of competition in the already difficult battle for real estate clients, the emergence of iBuyers has actually provided agents with a great opportunity to evolve and strengthen their businesses.
Though they might not be able to compete directly on some of an iBuyer’s most attractive features, they can do the following:
1. Focus on the relationships.
One of the most powerful things an agent has to offer is a personal, one-on-one relationship with their customers. And with a transaction as weighty as a home sale, where hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line, that’s no minor thing. Naturally, many homeowners want more hands-on, personal care in this scenario — really, the assurance they’re getting the time and attention they deserve — and agents can provide just that
Think of it like Walmart coming to town. If you own a mom-and-pop shop, you’re not going to try to outprice Walmart or offer a bigger selection. You just can’t win that way. The better approach is to differentiate yourself by offering better service, more personalized care and stronger one-on-one relationships than a big-box store can ever fathom. That’s how you solidify yourself in a competitive market.
2. Embrace the tech.
Building those better relationships doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment either. It can be something as simple as sending a text or email on their birthday (services including ours can even help you automate them) or a card on their homebuying anniversary. The main goal is to take a page out of the tech-driven iBuyers’ books and use technology to build your network and nurture it over time.
Agents should also realize why customers are driven to these tech-based models in the first place. For most buyers and sellers, it’s the twofold benefit of convenience and control. Tech-based brokerages and iBuyers are just more efficient. They offer easy-to-use, online-based tools and platforms, and their closing and overall transaction times are faster. They also give customers more control and visibility over the transaction from start to finish.
Fortunately, there’s technology that agents can leverage to improve both convenience and control as well. From online title agents and digital notaries that speed up some of the more tedious parts of the closing process to 3D tours, drone videos and even interactive neighborhood apps that let clients explore properties remotely, there are tons of tech options that can improve the overall experience — while also strengthening that customer relationship in the process.
3. Hop on the bandwagon.
Finally, agents can also embrace the change and join the iBuying movement themselves. That’s what Matt Patulski and his team over at The Heyl Group are doing. At an Inman News conference I attended this year, they announed that his Keller Williams branch has actually created its own internal iBuyer program that gives sellers multiple options: get an upfront cash offer for their home, or go the traditional route and list the property on the open market.
The other option is to work with an iBuyer directly. That doesn’t mean accept a full-time job with them or switch sides, but many iBuyers actually work with agents directly, tapping them for Uber-like, on-demand home showings or even offering their clients cash offers in exchange for small referral fees. Offerpad, Knock and Opendoor all work with licensed agents in some way.
iBuyers As Inspiration
The moral of the story is simple: iBuyers aren’t the enemy — they’re the inspiration. Rather than trying to beat them at their own game, agents must instead focus their efforts internally, on evolving their approach, strengthening their relationships and leveraging technology to better serve today’s changing buyers. If they can do that, then agents aren’t going anywhere.