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The Role of the Real Estate Agent is Changing

There has been discussion among brokers and agents that real estate agents are going the way of the travel agent.  I have paid attention to the grumblings of my real estate peers and dutifully have considered a backup plan – just in case it becomes a reality that real estate agents won’t be needed as much in the future. I truly hope I don’t have to put Plan B in action; I don’t think I will.

Broker/Agents are no longer the gatekeepers of listing information, but it is still important for Broker/Agents to have their own websites.

When I first started in this business, the only way the public could find out about houses for sale was through an agent.  Even if they saw a for sale sign, they would need to call to get inside. 

These days, 90% of people who buy and sell truly educate themselves online long before they ever contact an agent, and some people even decide to go ahead and attempt to do the transaction themselves. 

The internet isn’t always what it seems though, and a lot of the information out there is misleading at best and even downright wrong in some instances.

Zillow in particular has done an incredible job of capturing the public’s imagination.  Please realize that Zillow is a for profit company.  Not to pick on them particularly, but pretty much every web site that is not selling you a good or service is turning you into the good or service being sold.  They get paid by capturing your information and selling it to real estate agents. 

At the risk of oversimplifying, this is exactly why so many houses on their web site are not actually available.  Every individual property screen is a squeeze page designed to get the public to request more information in return for their contact information.

It’s really common for some of my home buyer clients to email or text me with stacks of addresses they got from the internet that look available. They exclaim, as if they just struck gold, “Look at these homes I found on the internet! Why can’t we see these?!!”, as if I am purposely withholding from them the opportunity to buy a fabulous home they found for sale on the internet in their price range.

My next step of course is to run in circles like a cat chasing its tail, scrambling to get on my Multiple Listing Service system to check on such-and-such home only to find it is either not available currently, or it was never listed at all.  Scratching my head I would go back to my client and ask more questions: Is there and who is the agent listing the home? Is there and what is the MLS number? Where on the internet did you see this home for sale? Questions my home buyer clients couldn’t answer, except perhaps for the last question –  often they saw it on Zillow.

There are two common scenarios here.  More often than not, what they saw was a property that is off market and pending but not yet sold.  Zillow keeps those on their web site until they actually close escrow.   Less frequently, but still often enough, what my clients were looking at were “property profiles” of homes on Zillow and were confusing these profiles as homes for sale.  People looking for deals seem to love to look at the foreclosures tab, but what they sometimes don’t notice is the “Pre-foreclosure” Auction status, just that it says it has been on Zillow for “XX” days. My buyer may not have noticed the Foreclosure auction date is almost two months ago or two months in the future but they certainly notice if the price listed is well below the Zillow “Zestimate.”

The client often gets all excited and thinks they found a great deal, especially if we’ve been having a difficult time finding a home that fits their needs in a specific location in their price range. Then I have to break the bad news: this home is not available for sale and explain why it is not for sale. It’s sad because I can see the disappointment in their eyes.

Having been down this road too many times to count, now I insist home buyer customers and clients use my websites to search for homes, not Zillow. In the past I would casually say they can use my site, or my broker’s site, to search for homes – that they don’t have to use Zillow. They never really listened and that is my mistake for not explaining why they shouldn’t use Zillow. Now I have this website customers can use, plus the MLS portal.  All of the home searches on my sites are direct feeds from the Multiple Listing Service and do not house (pun intended) “property profiles” nor squeeze pages to confuse customers.

Now, let’s be honest, the argument only the MLS is accurate is becoming a worn out one.  It’s true that not all homes available for sale are listed on the Multiple Listing Service. Homes that can be for sale and not on the MLS would be:

  • For sale by owner
  • Trustee sale — at the courthouse steps
  • Bulk home sales not available to the public
  • Pocket and “coming soon” listings
  • New Homes being sold directly from the builder to the public

  Take Zillow’s General Partner Spencer Rascoff’s assertion at face value “agents will always be a part of real estate home sales.”

Clearly, Rascoff is a smart guy, and says that although broker/agents are no longer the “gatekeepers” of information, they will always be a part of real estate home sales. Home sale transactions are complicated and an intermediary is important to the consumer — unlike travel agents, where transactions are not as complicated, less money is involved and are more frequent.

In my opinion, the type of agent who will be successful in the coming years will be those who:

  1. Are great negotiators
  2. Are great marketers
  3. Have in-depth, local community expertise
  4. Can act as a transactional guide for home sellers and home buyers

On the surface it seems simple and easy, but any agent who has been in this business for any amount of time knows there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes in order to achieve these four points. Great negotiators are not easy to come by — it’s a skill that must be studied and practiced.  It takes time and effort to become a great marketer. Just living in a community does not make one a local community expert. If an agent does not know the real estate transactional process and standard contracts, they can make the home selling or home buying experience less than it could be for their clients and customers. If they are not already stellar, agents must strive and work hard to become that stellar agent. Safe to say, there will be no place in the future for lazy and/or unknowledgeable agents.

So it seems there will always be a need for real estate agents. We are not going the way of the travel agent any time soon. However, in my opinion, it won’t be as easy to be successful in real estate as it may have been in the past. Broker/agents will be competing for market share in a real estate market where others who are bigger and perhaps have more credibility are competing for the same piece of pie as well. The real estate market is always changing, and so, also, the role of the real estate agent is changing. 

Are you tired of outdated listings?  Try our home search right from your phone, powered by the MLS.  Completely Free to you!  You are here at and we have a phone ap you can get emailed to you just for signing up.  Please check it out!

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