William Raveis on the “Shift in Real Estate Technology”
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bill Raveis a couple of weeks ago to get his perspective on where he sees technology moving in our industry and what his company is doing to address this vision. I first met Bill Raveis years ago when I was working with Interealty, the leading MLS vendor of that time. At our first meeting, Bill and a number of his fellow industry leaders were trying to create a more logical multiple listing service in Fairfield County in Connecticut, an area at the time that had many small local MLSs that made doing business both difficult and expensive. Then, as now, Bill Raveis is always looking for ways to use technology to improve his business and he is not afraid to challenge the status quo, even the models that have been keys to his company’s success in the past.
During our interview Bill discussed changes he believes are impacting our industry from a technology perspective and his company’s response to them. He also discussed changes that he believes have to come in the overall approach to the real estate business to be successful moving forward. He expects many may not be able to make these changes successfully.
A Background in Technology
Bill Raveis actually started his career as a System’s Analyst working in Manhattan with Westinghouse at the age of 25. System’s design was a brand new concept back then and he was involved with helping to develop systems to manage and control the entire product shipping requirements for everything from light bulbs to nuclear power plant components. It was obvious speaking with Bill about his technology roots that he has never lost his passion and interest in the technology arena.
The Move to Real Estate
Bill’s father was a stonemason and he says he used to help his father, during his first work experience, mixing cement and as a general helper on his father’s projects. This exposure to building and real estate was very influential in his later deciding to move into the real estate business. He said he had always been around the real estate field and it just felt natural to him.
When he decided to try his success in real estate the requirements were quite different. He actually started as a broker right from the beginning, opening his own company. He also stressed that technology was a key theme for his company from day one. At that time, technology was fairly limited. Access to information through computers was in the early stages. In those days, he pointed out, you had to use thermal printing terminals with phone couplers but that was “state of the art” at the time and Bill was always an early adopter and a leader in real estate technology. Things have not changed in this regard!
William Raveis Technology Today
The William Raveis Real Estate company today has a very sophisticated technology platform they provide for their agents company wide. When Bill read our recent white paper, “The Shift in Real Estate Technology”, he said we could have been writing about his company. He believes the point of integrated technology experience for agents has shifted to the real estate company and there is a critical need for real estate companies to retool. William Raveis did just that, and has created an integrated system for the 2,700 real estate agents they support, called the “William Raves Agent Dashboard”.
In the multi-page pamphlet they give their agents to overview Agent Dashboard benefits are described on the first page:
“The Agent Dashboard makes it easy to keep in contact with your clients and prospects. The powerful marketing capabilities such as group messaging, email/letter templates, virtual postcards, advanced notification systems and complete MLS integration make this tool second to none in the industry. For existing buyers and sellers, the Agent Dashboard provides customizable listing servicing plans, listing notifications, open house plans and more!”
The Agent Dashboard is composed of a core product, Agent Achieve, from CoreLogic, which provides robust contact management and marketing management. William Raveis took this product and built upon it in order to provide agents a variety of tools to organize, control and grow their business.
Agent Dashboard contains numerous agent and team tools including:
- Complete Contact Management
- Calendar and Tasks – Local and mobile
- Document Management – Easy access to key information at any time.
- Sharing – Tools to work with other agents or teams as desired.
- Town Hall Information
- MLS Integration – Easy access and search from Agent Dashboard.
- Client Interaction Tools – Auto searches that let agents see client activity easily.
- Mobile Tools – Calendars, contacts and email alerts anytime, anywhere.
Keys to Technology Success
Since William Raveis made this substantial commitment to technology I asked what he felt were the keys to making it work and most importantly getting it adopted by his agents. In my recent white paper “Real Estate Technology – Keys to Adoption” we reviewed a number of keys we believe are necessary for adoption to take place today. His keys for adoption seemed to be very much in alignment with our.
Bill Raveis said it has to be easy, it has to be promoted and that education and training of the agents is key. Bill said 500 of his agents got it right away and recognized what the system could do for them. The other 2200 are getting on board but require continual training and support. He continued that you have to be prepared to present things several times before they really sink in, but in the end it is worth it. The company has to be willing to commit to continual training.
William Raveis brought their managers on board first, months before the system went live to make sure there was buy in and understanding of the benefits at the management level. After this they moved forward with local training. After seven months Bill says about 1400 of his agents are now using the Agent Dashboard successfully. He believes realistically, getting everyone on board is a 1 to 2 year process.
One of the keys we stress in our white paper “Keys to Adoption” is that software has to be “easy, easy, easy” and that you have to deliver rollouts in chunks or it will be overwhelming. This is exactly the approach that William Raveis took starting with Calendars and Spheres of Influence getting agents to first load all of their contacts. Bill agreed that it is important to provide tools in steps but they need to provide value right away if you want agents to really use them.
He also pointed out that technology planning can never stop. While Agent Dashboard is being rolled out successfully and is in fact, not 100% adopted yet, William Raveis is already planning more enhancements , as they know technology continues to accelerate. Bill says “There is a huge focus on improving and expanding mobile access tools for their company, as this is the next phase we need to tackle”. He believes PCs as we know them will be gone in the near future and we have to all be prepared to serve that mobile environment.
Real Estate Brokerage Has to Change
Bill Raveis, though he has built a hugely successful “traditional” brokerage is very quick to point out that there has to be significant change moving forward. Agents, he noted, don’t come in and hang out in the office the way they did at one time and companies have to be prepared to support them the way they do business today. He pointed out, “The office of the future needs to be a combination of an Apple store and Kinkos! Agents will always need some form of support services as well as conference space to meet with their clients but offices of the future will look totally different than they do today. Instead of many personal offices that stand empty the majority of time offices will have business centers and multiple conference rooms. Mobile technology tools will let them do their business anywhere they want but when they need a space to work with their clients it will be there.”
Agent Centric Is Key
It might be surprising to many that a company with a brand as strong as William Raveis believes that they need to support and encourage brand building at the agent level. Bill Raveis was very clear that the company of today and the future has to be willing to support agents and agent teams that are building personal brands. While this is not going to be the path for many agents those that want to move in this direction should be supported and encouraged. Bill believes the company role is to provide the technology, tools and infrastructure that would be too expensive and difficult to do on an individual basis under a brand that they can count on.
Challenges For Our Industry
Our industry, according to Bill Raveis, is basically going through a perfect storm with the recession coming at the same time a retooling is required to address the new technology demands in our industry. From his point of view many companies will not be in a position financially to make the necessary investment in technology to keep pace. He notes that margins from the sale of real estate have eroded and those that don’t have income from other sources, such as mortgage, insurance and title or those that have not put away funds in advance of this cycle are in a tough spot.
He believes a number of companies have been trying to ride out the storm; waiting for the uptick, but there hasn’t been one and may not be one for some time. Some are going to run out of staying power as a result. Bill believes real estate companies need to reinvent themselves and that many just won’t have the reserves in terms of cash to be able to do it. He stated emphatically, “I respect everyone in this industry, it’s a tough business!” He went on to say that he believes small companies can do OK, but small company owners will have to list and sell to make ends meet while mid sized companies will need to change their business model to adapt. He sees a trend of these smaller operations moving to boutique operations, with their own brand, under a strong corporate brand like William Raveis. His model already supports this trend.
Key to Success
In conclusion, I asked Bill what he believed the real key to his success has been and needs to be moving forward? He said it was, without doubt, the people. He said vision is great but you need to be able to see and pick talent to be a part of the company that are going to be in alignment with your vision and values. Technology is an important component of the business but in the end everything comes back to finding people with more than just real estate knowledge that can move things forward. Bill Raveis looks for people to lead in his company that understand agents are their customers.