Friday Flash: The brokers’ world

Marc, Joel and I were at the LeadingRE conference in Miami Beach last week.

This event gets better every year, and this time around we learned a ton.

For starters, I learned that a pasty, 45-year-old man in a swimsuit bought at Dick’s Sporting Goods is super out of place at the Fontainebleau pool.

So there’s that.

Much more encouraging learnings were found in a series of meetings taken throughout the week in a format we called “The Marketing Confessional” – one-hour blocks of time in which brokerage leaders came to us with a problem we did our best to attack in that brief window.

This was a compressed version of something we do with companies that book a day with us at our Portland, OR, headquarters. These Miami meetings were strategic speed dates, you might say.

But, man, were they as insightful as they were quick. There was something about the constrained yet free-flowing structure that crystallized some things for us.

Here are just a few broad takeaways we were left thinking about:

What disruption?

Sure, company dollar is eroding for many brokerages. And new entrants like Opendoor are gaining traction. But the companies we met with are doing just fine, thank you.

One brokerage we talked to owns 51% market share in a mid-sized American city, with no sign of slowing down. Another has a large office with an average sales price of $85,000 — that they operate profitably! A third, surrounded by fierce competitors, sought guidance on a new growth strategy.

We work with brokers every day and like to think we have a pretty balanced view. But this was a welcome reminder: the “traditional” broker still has plenty of mojo.

The vending machine

Brokers get what tech vendors vend, not necessarily what they need.

This explains a lot of things.

For example, why do 90% of broker websites look like this?


Because that’s what brokerage website vendors sell.

Most brokers we met with get very few leads from IDX home search. All agreed that seller leads and agent recruiting have a much bigger impact on the bottom line.

Why aren’t they using their heavily trafficked digital front doors for those things, then?

Because that’s not what their vendor sold them. Customizations are discouraged. Frustrations mount. The website remains an echo of 2005.

Home search has a place on most brokerage websites. And we know brokers who still make a nice business from buyer leads derived from IDX. The point is that the range of broker possibilities is too often bounded by the dimensions of the trade show hall.

The agent communication gap

Brokers, including those we talked with last week, know that the agent is their primary customer. They know that recruiting and retaining agents is the lifeblood of their business. They know that it is agents – not the MLS, not Zillow, not the latest-greatest app – who sell homes.

But many brokers struggle to keep their recruiting campaigns fresh, or find that the channels of communication with their agents are limiting or dated. At the same time, they are engulfed in a narrative in which the consumer – often a demanding, self-absorbed millennial who would prefer to buy with a bot than an agent, if only they could – plays the lead role.

Brokers are thus drawn to spend time and money figuring out “The Consumer”. This isn’t a bad thing. But sometimes the closer-in opportunity to communicate more effectively with agents gets passed over.

We can count on our hands the number of brokers who can send a great-looking, well-written, mobile-friendly email newsletter to their agents. It’s rare that we see a sexy recruiting piece. These are easy wins, really, and ones we’ve helped make happen for clients, but they’re too often lost in the shuffle.

Integration paralysis

A story often told:

Broker wants to deploy more new technology to better serve agents.

Broker sees cool application they think their agents would like.

Broker has IT guy look at it.

IT guy says that unless they integrate with the broker’s main tech platform it’s not gonna happen.

It doesn’t happen.

Technology integration is overrated, at least inasmuch as it often has a “perfection is the enemy of the good” kind of effect. Sure, if you feel you can pull off the kind of tech moonshot Keller Williams is aiming for, by all means go for it. But most don’t have those kind of resources.

And plus, in our experience, agents prefer a la carte over prix fixe when it comes to tech anyway.

There are lots of brokers out there waiting for perfection.

Anyway, some broad generalizations here. But listening really closely to a group of very smart brokers is something that we’ll never quit doing.

Enjoy the weekend!

Disclosure: Leading Real Estate Companies of the World (LeadingRE) is a 1000WATT client.