There is a rather famous speech in the real estate world that was given by a past president of the National Association of Realtors a dozen years ago. Those in the business refer to it as the “Lions coming over the hill” speech. The thought back then was, in simple terms, that the real estate industry was in peril, with Realtors in jeopardy of being replaced by a myriad of websites.
Today, of course, the local multiple listing services have competition from outside websites like Zillow, Trulia, and even Yahoo! and Google, to name a few. Heck, it even has competition, if you choose to view it that way, from inside websites like Realtor.com.
But this industry isn’t just about the data.
As the industry has changed over the last few years so has the role of the salesperson. One might reasonably argue that in real estate’s heyday – perhaps 2002 to 2005 – many agents were little more than order takers. An agent might take a potential buyer out to show them a handful of homes, write an offer that day, get it accepted in hours, and be pending final approval in just a week. That has all changed, to say the least.
Today’s real estate agents must be more educated on the process. They must be more fluent than ever on short sales and foreclosures and understand the intricacies of the different processes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two major secondary sources of financing. Beyond those two government-sponsored enterprises, each financial institution has its own system (or not!) for handling short sales and foreclosures.
So what is the role of a real estate agent today? Well, some suggest it is distress sale specialist – helping potential sellers understand the situation they are in and looking over what they have received to date (not providing legal advice, however). Some suggest the role is of consultant – helping buyers and sellers work through the process of putting in an offer, negotiating it, answering questions, managing the plethora of disclosures, serving as a liaison between client and bank at times, and generally getting the deal to close. Others, however, still see agents as being just someone to get you into the house or being able to send information on houses that fit into a certain criteria. This just simply isn’t the case, if it ever was.
Today’s agents are skilled in a variety of topics. They are required to take continuing education courses in order to renew their license every other year. They must pass tests to certify that they still understand agency, fair housing, escrow, financing, disclosure, inspection, and more. Moreover, many agents have taken additional courses to earn real estate designations to further their ability to aid their clients. Such designations such as the Accredited Buyers Representative, Certified Residential Specialist, Graduate of the Realtor Institute, Certified International Property Specialist, Master’s Degree in Real Estate, in addition to nearly two dozen others exemplify the high level to which agents go to be the best for their clients.
Additionally, real estate is too complex to be conducted exclusively over the Internet. Transactions are getting more and more complicated. Legislation keeps adding disclosures and more forms. Often real estate agents are the client’s best source of coordination of services including attorneys, lenders, inspectors, appraisers, utilities, repair people, home warranty, movers, decorators, title services, and more. Clients need this point of contact that agents fulfill.
Buying a home is not something that cannot be left to chance. If someone purchases a bad vacation over the Internet and ends up in a shack for a week, he/she can laugh it off. It’s a whole different story for someone that spends his life’s savings on the purchase of a home only to be taken advantage of. It’s where they park their car and place their valuables. It’s where they invite their friends to watch the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. It’s where they raise their families and make their memories. Perhaps most of all a person’s home is where they lay their head at night – their comfort zone. It fulfills the basic needs of us all: safety and security.
The real estate industry will not be replaced by computers and websites because too much is at risk. People will always want to see their home firsthand before they buy it, with minor exception.
• Jim Haisler is the chief executive officer of the Heartland Realtor Organization providing products, service, education, and assistance to more than 700 real estate professionals throughout McHenry County and northern Illinois.