customer-centricI can’t tell you the number of times I have had a conversation with someone in the real estate industry where they tell me that the consumer is NOT their client.  We prefer to think of the agent as the primary audience and simply ignore the fact that agents do not provide the checks. As the saying goes…follow the money…If you want to succeed in real estate, you have to address the needs of those that secure mortgages to buy and sell homes, not simply those that get a commission check from the sale.

That seems like a simple concept, doesn’t it?  But a consumer focus simply eludes us in real estate.  Every business model in the industry helps us justify the fact that it is all about the agent.  Associations need members for advocacy so they focus on agents. MLSs need agents to fuel investment in technology so they focus on agents.  Brokers need sales associates and technology fees so they focus their energies on recruiting agents.

Is it any wonder that the industry’s reputation with consumers is not as stellar as it could be when we focus more on our own needs than theirs?

As many of you know I come from the world of consumer products and I am passionate about trying to change this very dangerous and potentially lethal belief system we cling to. It’s more than time for us to open up our eyes and realize that when you ignore the needs of the buying public, it’s only a matter of time before you get replaced….Oh wait, isn’t that already happening?  When you ask consumers what brand they think of when you say real estate they say Zillow.  When you ask consumers where to find an agent they tell you Yelp. We’re already losing a ton of ground because we refuse to believe that the needs of the consumer have to be considered and responded to, even when their requests are uncomfortable to us.

Why does Zillow exist? Because the industry refused to provide AVM’s. Why does Yelp exist?  Because we believe consumers are not well-equipped to provide feedback on the transaction so why give them any transparency into customer feedback from past transactions?

So what do we do to change this life-threatening trend?

Well here’s one small step that brokerages, associations and MLSs can take on to begin to stem the tide of this dangerous perspective.

How about involving consumers in the conversation?  What if we ask them their opinion of technologies we are considering?  Get their input on what they believe are the biggest weaknesses in the industry today?  Solicit their opinions on pending legislation affecting real estate?  Ask them about their perception of our brand and competitor’s brands so we know how we stack up?

The Houston Association of REALTORS® launched a consumer research panel less than a year ago and they now have a ready pool of over 6500 consumers who answers surveys every few weeks on a variety of topics.  They are the first in the industry to take the bold move to talk to consumers directly on a regular basis. Houston has used the results to help define their rental initiative, refine their political advocacy efforts, confirm consumer interest in a variety of consumer-facing technologies they offer to their members and even measure the strength of the REALTOR® brand.

WAV Group is overseeing the project for HAR outlining topics for consideration, fielding the research, and identifying gems of wisdom that are informing positive change for HAR members.  Bob Hale says,   “We have learned some really interesting things from Houston consumers. They have opened up our eyes to opportunities that we are now addressing through technology, training and communications.”

Participants in the H.A.R. Consumer Research Panel have been recruited from consumers that registered on to receive property updates.  With a simple invitation WAV Group was successful in helping HAR recruit nearly 10% of those consumers invited that are willing to answer surveys monthly. The amazing news – none of the consumers in the panel are being compensated in any way. They are simply contributing their ideas to improve the local real estate market in Houston.

Brokers are now taking on the idea of creating a consumer research panel as well. They are using their panel to refine the elements of their website, test consumer-facing technologies and measure the performance of their agents.  Importantly, these panels are doing double duty for these progressive brokers.  Not only are brokers using their research panel to identify better ways to serve their clients. They are also using the mere fact they have a consumer research panel as a recruiting tool making it a win/win.

If you believe it’s time to start listening and responding more intently to what consumers have to say, we would love to talk to you.  We can set up a research panel in your market too, making your organization the most well informed and the most well-positioned for long-term success.  Feel free to reach out to me at and I’ll be happy to tell you more.