This year, the world became much smaller. In response to COVID-19, government officials made executive orders that shut down local economies, travel slowed as people sheltered in place, and as a result, communities became much more insular. At the same time, technology allowed people to connect with one another and form new relationships regardless of physical distance. 

At Qualia’s Future of Real Estate Summit, Qualia’s Director of Strategic Accounts, James Lipton, ALTA President & Orange Coast Title Company EVP, Bill Burding, and OJO Labs Chief Real Estate Officer (and former Keller Williams CEO), Chris Heller, discussed this dichotomy and its impact on real estate businesses. 

Real estate has never been more local

This past year, homebuyers and sellers were more reliant than ever on local real estate professionals. For example, many homebuyers relied on real estate agents to capture footage of properties they couldn’t visit in person due to COVID-19 restrictions. In this sense, “real estate has never been more local,” Burding said.

Technology is continuing to advance to help national businesses centralize local operations; however, Burding and Heller both believe real estate agents and local, boots-on-the-ground experts will always be a necessity at the transaction level. “Those local service providers at the ground level are every bit as relevant now as they were 25 years ago,” Heller said. He explained that OJO Labs leverages technology to connect great agents—who know their local markets intimately—to consumers across the country. In this sense, OJO Labs recognizes the need to have the right real estate professionals in its network to meet and exceed the expectations of the consumer. “It’s the fusion of tech and humans working hand-in-hand,” he said. 

How to find and keep the right local partners 

Orange Coast Title covers expansive operations across multiple markets, but this growth didn’t happen overnight. “We’ve grown things granularly,” Burding said. His philosophy is that success comes from “building a nest” and finding the right leaders to build that nest. “Finding the right leader for a particular market is very important,” he said.

To build relationships at a local level with regional banks and county-level businesses, Burding believes there is “no substitute” for going in and showing these partners your value, including the technology you leverage, what you can do, and how you can help them.   

Dovetailing technology with different partners is also crucial to form mutually beneficial relationships. The technology and systems used on all sides should work together for quicker processing, fewer errors, and overall efficiency. 

Heller added that technology is also important for exceeding consumer expectations and breaking through the noise of the competition. “There have never been more models for agents and consumers to buy homes…[consumers] are inundated with offers all the time,” he said. Ultimately, a “seamless experience” is what consumers want. Agents need to be proactive in anticipating what consumers desire by adopting new technology.

Defining success: how to know when local relationships are thriving 

Heller and Burding outlined two simple ways to keep a pulse on the success of local partnerships.

  1. Feedback from consumers. Customer happiness is a simple indicator of success; however, “you don’t have to wait until you receive a negative comment,” Burding said. He suggested that businesses proactively seek feedback from consumers and innovate to meet their needs. 
  1. Business growth. “If [your growth] is flat in this market, you’re probably going backwards,” Heller said. In 2021, the market is expected to remain strong. A steady increase in referral business should be expected for businesses with strong local partnerships. 

To hear more from Heller and Burding, click below to watch a recording of their conversation from the Future of Real Estate Summit.

Watch the video