The real estate industry suffers from what I call the “lowest common denominator” phenomenon. Every one of the business models in the industry – associations, MLSs and brokerages are built on attracting and retaining as many agents as possible. Many real estate entities collect monies every month from every participant – regardless of their productivity. While these models each have their own reasons to exist, they have created a major problem in my view. Real estate organizations are so busy attracting sales professionals that many ignore the needs of the most important group – the customer.
It’s no wonder that the real estate industry focuses mainly on the needs of agents – every business model depends on them. The problem is this focus has distracted us away from paying attention to the real drivers of the industry – consumers. We forget that without them we will have no business. They decide what inventory levels will be available in a market. They decide when supply will exceed demand and when prices will increase because of a buying frenzy. The economy sets the stage for buying behaviors, but consumers ultimately decide how healthy the real estate market is going to be.
I believe it’s time for our industry to expand its focus beyond agents and start thinking about the needs of consumers. When I say this in meetings, some people respond to me politely and say, “Yes, I get that the consumer is important, but ultimately my business depends on agents. I need to consider their needs first and foremost. If I don’t I will lose them and they will move to a different brokerage or they switch to a new association or worse yet, they may leave the REALTOR® family completely.”
I really believe it’s time for us to get over this outdated perspective. Let’s look at what our ignorance of consumer needs has gotten us so far…..anybody remember the Zestimate? The industry refused to share AVM’s with consumers so they found their solution somewhere else. How about sold data? There are many MLSs today that refuse to share solds via their IDX feed because agents do not want them to. How crazy is that when solds are available on literally thousands of third party sites today?
So how do we avoid the next major faux pas that opens up even more opportunities for every company EXCEPT those in organized real estate? What if we started to talk more to consumers and actually started listening to what they have to say? And, God forbid, what if we actually start to put their interests and needs above our own?
It’s time for others to follow the lead of the Houston Association of REALTORS®. They have created a Consumer Research Panel that allows them to talk to more than 6500 consumers every 4 to 6 weeks. They have asked consumers questions about everything from the Mortgage Interest Deduction to Rentals to Transaction Management Solutions and even their satisfaction with their agent. They have leveraged the information they have gathered in a few meaningful ways.
- Inform Better Internal Decisions – Before launching a new website feature or a new technology platform, HAR asks consumers about the value of a technology or enhancement. They have used this valuable information to shape their product roadmap as well as prioritize the types of programs they can offer to their members. The programs they prioritize help agents and brokers better serve the needs of their consumers, helping make the services more valuable and ultimately, HAR more valuable as well.
- Thought Leadership – By taking the lead on consumer research, HAR can demonstrate thought leadership to their members locally as well as the industry nationally. They are now armed with tangible, quantitative data that can help drive positive change in their local community as well as throughout the industry. This is helping to strengthen the HAR brand with their members and the entire industry.
- Help improve focus of advocacy efforts – By connecting directly with consumers about what legislative issues are important to them, the advocacy team at HAR can confidently present their case with real data showing how important real estate issues are to area residents. Government Affairs Directors can make a much stronger case when they provide statistical information to support their case.
- Valuable service to brokers – Associations and MLSs sometimes struggle with ways to create solid connections with their brokers. By supplying consumer research insights that the broker is not equipped to gather on their own, Associations and MLSs can provide valuable information that can help every broker better prepare their agents for success. Brokers can also use the information to step up their own online marketing efforts, service quality and branding efforts
- Help better prepare members for success – Most importantly, the research is being used to help position every HAR member for success. The Houston Association of REALTORS® recently published an edition of their Houston REALTOR® magazine completed dedicated to helping members understand how to better address the needs of the consumer.
The publication quoted results from a variety of the consumer studies conducted and then outlined specific ways that agents and brokers could increase consumer loyalty. The magazine has received rave reviews from their members. The articles remind all of us about the simple, but effective ways to create stronger connections and lifetime relationships with homebuyers and sellers. It is an extremely tangible method for delivering value to a member. The information shared can be used in practical applications every day, helping members become more successful.
It’s time for every organization to start to pay attention more to the group that supports every one of us – Consumers.
If you would like more information about forming your own Consumer Research Panel, please contact Marilyn Wilson at Marilyn@wavgroup.com