Imagine opening a massive hard-copy file of available properties. Actually, an entire file drawer. You thumb through marketing brochures for buildings that are filed by their square footage. When you find a property you want to submit to your client, you photocopy the brochure and take out a single strip of paper—about 1 inch high and 14 inches long—which provides you with the basic building information. You repeat this over and over. Eventually, you have amassed an entire collection of these 1-by-14-inch strips of paper. You take your handful of paper strips and gingerly lay them out on the copy machine to create a master sheet of your selected properties. Next, you pick up a map and carefully place sticker dots to mark the locations of your chosen buildings. Finally, you sit down to the task of designing a booklet featuring your xeroxed master sheet, your marked map, key details about the buildings, and your marketing brochures. A tedious and cumbersome undertaking to show a few properties.
Some of you in the brokerage community may remember the old system and how it was used to identify, map out, and market properties to our clients. But, if you have become a broker during the last two decades, you probably have no clue of what I am talking about. We are living in a time when all of the relevant information on any given property is available online. You can access those basic “strip” details with a couple of clicks of a mouse, no file drawers required.
But why is any of this important? Times change, and technology advances. This is not new information to anyone. So, why keep reading?
Because, while that wonderful, easy-to-use, free database of property information has freed brokers from an arts and craft project for providing property information; it potentially has also freed them from being necessary to the transaction.
But not so fast.
Technology has certainly changed from when I started out in the brokerage business. It continues to change as I write this, and will continue to change to unforeseeable ends. But, the core principles behind how a broker should deal with a client remain the same. Loyalty, relationships, deep market knowledge, and the ability to negotiate and find creative solutions are much more valuable to your clients than the basic “strip” details they can find online.
There are so many nuances to each market: in Quaker country (where we own many assets) you need to respect how that community does business. You need to know that when deer season opens, you can’t close a deal for a week. Or the properties I have dealt with in Southern California. Here, you need to understand the freeway system as more than a series of numbers. You need to know how each highway effects your client’s logistics for distribution; locally, regionally and nationally. Other markets have labor constraints, drayage issues, utility constraints…
Clients rely on brokers for their understanding of markets, trends, and distribution. For their ability to provide unique insights into a property’s value. To better understand the aspects of the deal that Google can’t tell them.
Even when Redfin, LoopNet and CoStar are a client’s first stop, the knowledge and professionalism required of brokers is greater than ever. The abundance of information available online creates freedom, but it is also potentially a disaster of misinformation waiting to happen. Technology is king, and we can’t avoid that. But in real estate brokerage, the human element isn’t dead. A savvy, knowledgeable, and trustworthy broker can still deliver the best result.