In January, leaders from across the real estate industry will take the stage at the Future of Real Estate Summit (FORE Summit) in Austin Texas. Ben Rubenstein, founder and CEO of Opcity at realtor.com, will discuss tomorrow’s real estate agent models.  

Opcity’s technology platform uses proprietary data sets and applied analytics to match top real estate agents with qualified home buyers and sellers in real-time. In 2018, Move Inc., operator of realtor.com, acquired Opcity. Since then, realtor.com has leveraged  Opcity’s proven process to connect real estate agents, loan officers, and title companies into one ecosystem to deliver a rich consumer experience.  

We sat down with Ben to discuss how realtor.com is rethinking the home buying, selling, and owning experience and where he believes the industry is heading in 2020 and beyond.

QUALIA: WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN IN THE PAST YEAR THAT YOU BELIEVE WILL HAVE THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS OF THE FUTURE?

BEN: There has been a tremendous amount of change this past year, and by far the most impactful pivot has been the shift to focus on the consumer. It has become very clear that the most successful organizations supply what consumers need and want, and then surprise them with a delightful, easy-to-use experience that exceeds their expectations.

 At realtor.com, we’re developing and evaluating features in the digital experience that connect home shoppers to the professionals they need to succeed in the offline world, including agents, lenders, title companies and other service providers. We’ve seen marked improvements in satisfaction with the realtor.com experience, levels of consumer-service provider engagement, and close rates in markets across the country.

These results reinforce the value of integrating high tech and high touch in the industry. The ability to remove common consumer pain points, connect professionals across the ecosystem, and create comprehensive search-to-close solutions will define the real estate value chain moving forward. Today’s consumer demands this, and the winners in our industry will be the ones who provide the best consumer experience.

QUALIA: CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING YOU THINK PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT HOW REAL ESTATE WILL CHANGE IN THE NEXT 5 YEARS?

BEN: Real estate has been one of the last industries to be affected by technology. But that’s changing fast, and I think the next 5 years will see significant changes in the consumer experience and technology will usher in a wave of change.

Technology will change many aspects of an agent’s job today. Agents of the past would be responsible for finding homes for consumers, driving them around to tour properties, and negotiating on their behalf. As realtor.com and others make search and discovery an easy self-service experience for consumers, and tech-enabled lockbox technology and self-driving cars allow for touring a home to become a self-serve experience as well, top agents will have more time to complete more transactions, and their time will be focused on negotiating and closing.

The key to success in this environment requires:

  •  A platform that offers and engages consumers with the best real estate content, tools, and resources
  • Applied technology that helps us understand and deliver what each individual home shopper wants and needs at different steps along the way
  • A data-driven approach that helps connect consumers to the right professionals at all points of the home buying journey in real-time

Uber is a good example here. Uber is a one-stop platform that incorporates search, drivers, GPS, payments, real-time connections, and an entire experience. Consumers are demanding an integrated solution, and the future winners in real estate will be those that can deliver on a superior consumer experience (like Uber did against taxis) through superior technology.

QUALIA: WHICH TECHNOLOGY ADVANCEMENTS ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO SEE TAKE SHAPE IN 2020?

BEN: I’m excited about the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) can have on improving and enhancing the process of buying and selling real estate. We’re leveraging data to help connect home shoppers with the right agent for them. We analyze thousands of data points on consumers and agents to make a match, and use applied analytics to help drive higher close rates. 

For real estate professionals, realtor.com leverages data to provide insights into local market conditions, home buyer behaviors, and seller attitudes. On the realtor.com consumer front, we continue to develop features that give home shoppers access to data and information that can help them make more informed decisions. For example, consumers can search for homes by commute times to work, or explore how certain home features affect a home’s price  in any given neighborhood.

Real estate professionals who help their customers and clients understand, interpret, and apply relevant data as they shop for and/or sell a home will demonstrate their value in today’s consumer marketplace.

QUALIA: THERE’S SOME CONCERN THAT TECHNOLOGY AND SHIFTING CONSUMER DEMANDS WILL MAKE REAL ESTATE AGENTS OBSOLETE. IS THIS AN OVERLY DRAMATIC PREMONITION OR SOMETHING YOU THINK THE INDUSTRY SHOULD BE PREPARING FOR?

BEN:  Real estate agents remain an important part of the home buying and selling equation, but their day-to-day jobs are evolving as a result of technology. Consumer self-service will replace some aspects of the job (search, touring, etc.), yet core skills of top agents (negotiating, neighborhood/property-type insights, etc.) will become more important and valuable through time.

Companies that succeed moving forward must focus on delivering a superior consumer experience, alleviating consumer pain points in the real estate transaction, and helping them move seamlessly from search to close.

What differentiates realtor.com from many others in the space is how we understand the value of the professional — whether agent, lender, or settlement service provider — in delivering a superior consumer experience. Our performance-based model connects home shoppers to the professionals who can best help them, and we’re focused on improving ways to strengthen those connections and giving our customers the support they need to get their clients to closing.

QUALIA: FREDDIE MAC RECENTLY REPORTED THAT 24% OF RENTERS SAID IT WAS “EXTREMELY LIKELY” THEY WOULD EVER OWN A HOME — DOWN 11 PERCENTAGE POINTS FROM FOUR YEARS AGO. WHY DO YOU BELIEVE PSYCHOLOGY AROUND HOME OWNERSHIP IS SHIFTING?

BEN: I’m not sure that’s true. Traffic on realtor.com has hit record highs – that tells me that many people still want to own their own home. At the same time, a lot of other factors are affecting homeownership trends right now. Student debt is a big one. Realtor.com recently reported that the average student loan borrower owes $34,500 — that’s $8,500 more than the typical down payment of $26,000.

In addition, the supply of starter homes is much lower than the demand we see by first-time homebuyers. This leads to a painful process for consumers, and many of them give up. Our purpose and product is designed to make the process of buying a home easier and more rewarding, which should hopefully alleviate some stress during the process of moving from a renter to an owner.

QUALIA: ON A RELATED NOTE, A RECENT WSJ ARTICLE REPORTED THAT IN 2019, 19% OF HOUSEHOLDS WITH SIX-FIGURE INCOMES RENTED — UP FROM ABOUT 12% IN 2006. WHAT ECONOMIC AND SOCIETAL FACTORS DO YOU THINK ARE CONTRIBUTING TO THIS SHIFT?

BEN: Affordability is a significant factor, as are concerns about a pending recession. A recent realtor.com survey of active buyers found that more than half of them  (56%) would halt their home search if a recession hit.

Many of today’s would-be homeowners are concerned about financing and affordability, which is why we’re growing our services for lenders and other industry professionals as well as agents and brokers. Our goal is to connect consumers with the resources and professional guidance they need throughout the home buying journey; it’s all a part of building that superior consumer experience.

INTERESTED IN HEARING MORE FROM BEN ON THE FACTORS INFLUENCING THE HOME PURCHASE OF THE FUTURE? REGISTER FOR THE FORE SUMMIT BELOW NOW. 

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