Computers vs Real Estate Agents – friends or foes?

Something we’ve been hearing a bit of late is the question of how likely computers are to replace real estate agents? Two Oxford University researchers, Frey and Osborne have worked out how susceptible real estate agents and other jobs are to computerisation. Those who plan for their children to follow them into the family real estate business should look away now.

The Oxford Academics place the probability of real estate agents being replaced by computers at 86% – only 1 in 7 chance of survival.
The robots aren’t about to come and change the locks on the real estate agent’s office, the change is going to be much more subtle.

Mistakenly, some commercial real estate portals see replacing the old world of print advertising as mission accomplished. However, the conversion from print to internet is only the opening round in an ongoing war on commercial sales and leasing processes. There are plenty more changes to come, only some of which we can imagine. It’s a common human failing to see rapid change in the past as a one-off. We all tend to think the future will be stable with no big changes. Remember how revolutionary your Nokia mobile seemed at the time? It couldn’t get any better. Someone forgot to tell Apple.

What’s the evidence that we are starting to see the next couple of internet disrupters?

There are four commercial real estate portals that consistently appear on the first page of Google Search results in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

It’s difficult to find a reliable comparative website ranking tool, however many advertisers like to benchmark their rankings based on Alexa, an Amazon Inc. website tracking tool.

The surprising observation is that there are two distinct levels of property seeker engagement between the four main commercial property portals.

Portal Pages/Visit Time on Site
CommercialPropertyGuide 9.6 7:09
RealCommercial 8.3 7:05
CommercialRealEstate 4.0 4:36
CommercialView 3.8 4:08

* Site Visitor Engagement Metrics (Alexa.com)

Both commercialpropertyguide.com.au and the News Corp’s RealCommercial are moving towards the next levels of property seeker engagement, with visitors spending nearly twice as long on these sites as with Fairfax’s CommercialRealEstate and the REIV’s CommercialView.

This is in part due to the these two sites providing quality content to users, from tips and advice on commercial property to general market trends and insights. The portal experience moves beyond the transactional and into something more valuable to the user.

1. University of Oxford ‘The Future of Employment – how susceptible are jobs to computerisation’?

So what are visitors doing with the extra time on commercialpropertyguide.com.au and RealCommercial websites?

Clients are doing more and more research before that first moment of truth when they contact the real estate agent. Website visitors need information. We have seen that withholding the price, address and other key details limits the time a prospect spends on that listing webpage. Looking at the 360 degree Google Street View is surprisingly popular with commercial property seekers, something you can’t do if there’s no address available. A client’s trust in an agent grows with the agent’s enthusiasm. Other critical trust builders are sufficient professional photos, avoiding “cookie cutter” descriptions and steering clear of cliché headings.

What shapes a prospect’s view of an agent on the web? It comes down to two elements – being enthusiastic and not being tricky. On commercialpropertyguide.com.au there are lots of good and bad examples. To us, tricky looks like withholding the address and displaying “contact agent” for the price. “Come into my web says the spider to the fly”, then I’ll tell you the price and location.

Clients themselves build trust in their chosen real estate agent long before they make contact. When a prospect communicates for the first time, the agent’s task is not to build trust but to reinforce the perception the client already has.

Commercial property agents need to build trust at every stage of the sales and leasing process. Their trust building starts long before their prospect’s first contact. Commercial agents need to focus on their portal presence, especially on commercial portals with high levels of client engagement.

Simon Rose
CEO, Commercial Property Guide

SEO For Real Estate
Listing Leads
Agentpoint Real estate

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4 Responses to Computers vs Real Estate Agents – friends or foes?

  1. Martin Crampton July 1, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    Thanx Simon, interesting.
    However, I thought you were going to talk more about the actual transactional componentry such as REA introduced to Soufun in China(?) Advertising on portals & beginning/participating in, the communications process is one thing, transacting through a portal is something else again. When do agents get cut-out of that process or have to share a % of commish?!
    (Left-of-field, I reckon agents should be discussing how to work together to help each other instead of enabling the power of portals by competing to drive-up advertising costs – Ps Agents owning shares in a portal isn’t the answer!).

  2. Simon Rose July 2, 2015 at 10:48 pm #

    Thanks Martin, it’s always nice to get feedback.
    For us, it’s too early to know exactly what the business processes of the future will look like.
    However we know that the share of rewards will be based on where the property seekers see value – not on a grand alliance between agents and web operators.
    Our plan is to give property seekers what they want. Our big bet is that the solution will be more automation than human.
    It sounds like you might not agree with us that the commercial real estate portal evolution from print replacement to ecommerce will be a series of small incremental changes. In my mind it’s a classic “boil your frogs slowly” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog

  3. Ryan Ballard July 8, 2015 at 5:12 am #

    Thanks for the interesting read Simon.

    First of all, aren’t we all getting replaced by computers??? But really, technology has really changed the real estate industry and how people go about buying homes. With all of these websites that can be researched for days on end by consumers, they have the ability now to have so much information at their disposal. http://hmswarrantyrealestateblog.com/ reinforces these ideas by talking about how real estate agents need to adapt and consume the boom of technology.

    I know as a home buyer, my current house had no involvement with an agent whatsoever and all of my research and planning was done online through various sites.

  4. David King March 18, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    That’s an interesting subject Simon. These days you can sell a property online without ever engaging a real estate agent. All you need is a good convenyancer and good internet access. Also you don’t even have to spend all your weekends trawling through properties with 3-D imagery on some of these real estate websites, so if you don’t like the colour of the feature wall in a home or the garden for example, you can cross it off your list. Its a shame that good old fashioned ways of making a living are being phased out by technology but perhaps the future of estate agents will be in building gorgeous pictorial real estate web sites. That is something a computer can’t do….yet.

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