How the Real Estate Industry Differs from Others When it comes to Technology
Teresa Duran, the CIO of John L. Scott, leads the company information technology department, providing all aspects of technology services including mobile development, innovation and product development, web services, infrastructure/dev ops, networking, desktop engineering, business intelligence, and cybersecurity. Duran's past few positions have focused on driving technology transformation and modernization for companies. John L. Scott is a brokerage company supporting over 3,000 agents across Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and northern California.
Evolving consumer expectations are disrupting every industry, and the real estate industry is no stranger to this phenomenon. I lead the information technology department at John L. Scott, a brokerage company with a footprint across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and northern California. In my time working in the real estate industry, we have seen significant changes to the traditional brokerage model. For instance, the next generation of homebuyers has access to a multitude of information at their fingertips, which can challenge the status quo of purchasing and engagement preferences across every industry. Digital transformation and artificial intelligence have made purchasing, brand interactions, and complex transactions easier for consumers; from grocery delivery services to purchasing a vehicle online. Consumers want the purchasing process to be hassle-free, expecting certainty and value. They are increasingly willing to pay for services that offer convenience and depend less on human interaction to accomplish their goals.
These evolving consumer habits and expectations, coupled with technology digital transformations will continually drive drastic change and add new competitors across all industries. What differentiates the real estate market from other industries is consumers do not purchase a home frequently – an average buyer stays in their home over 10 years. Home purchases are often the largest investment a consumer makes in their lifetime. As a result, the entire real estate industry will not drastically change overnight, but changes are in motion that will continue to impact the process of buying or selling a home.
The technology landscape for the real estate industry is extremely unique and complex compared to other industries. The industry is shifting with changing business models, technology innovations, and growing competition from publicly-traded companies. These disruptions have resulted in a striking influx of new products and companies moving to aggressively address consumer trends. Innovation is occurring through optimization of real estate transactions and consumer-direct home purchases. While market share is still marginal today for direct purchasing of homes, only time will tell how this segment will evolve.
Another unique facet of the real estate industry is the brokerage and agent relationship. While most companies provide standard-essential technologies and set policies and processes for use across various roles within a company, real estate agents have significantly more freedom to leverage any technology products needed to further their business. As agents are independent contractors, they are considered a business owner in their own right. Agents have unique branding needs to differentiate themselves from other agents to win clients and grow their business. As new startups and products continuously enter the market, protecting agents from ineffective products and fraud is difficult. The real estate industry requires a delicate balance to allow flexibility for agents with technology while inserting controls to protect company assets and consumer data.
The FBI recently reported the real estate industry is one of the top targets for cybercrime. Compared to other industries I have worked in, cybersecurity has been a significant focus for us as wire fraud is the fastest growing cybercrime in real estate. Leading a technology department for the real estate industry requires a significant investment to strengthen account and security management practices to prevent cybercrime. I also spend a considerable amount of time evaluating cybersecurity threats across the enterprise and have introduced changes in policies and products to protect our agents and clients.
There are a variety of reasons the real estate industry is targeted for cybercrime over other industries. The transaction process to buy or sell a home has several parties involved, which leaves significant vulnerabilities to wire fraud. The transactions are for large dollar amounts making them attractive to cybercriminals. Another reason security threats arise is new products and niche vendors market directly to agents – and some may not have necessary security features in place. Additionally, due to the fast-paced nature of the industry and increased sophistication of cybercrime, some agents may not recognize threats immediately.
While most industries leverage technology departments to meticulously evaluate products for security, usability, and value prior to implementing to its users, agents will not always leverage a company-preferred product. This presents unique security challenges for technology departments in the real estate industry. Imagine if you worked in the financial industry and niche vendors directly marketed products to your financial analysts without technology department involvement. Many technology departments in the real estate industry do not have a holistic understanding of their enterprise data and applications and potential security threats compared to other industries.
Agents use technology in a variety of ways to manage relationships with clients. Since joining John L. Scott, I have spent a considerable amount of time modernizing every aspect of the technology landscape, from a significant infrastructure upgrade to the cloud to a complete overhaul of our mobile platform. Our technology strategy is to provide a reliable, scalable, and secure plug-and-play platform to improve productivity and provide a seamless user experience for our agents. Our platform includes John L. Scott branded websites, a JLS-branded mobile app, Exchange Online, customized customer-relationship management tool with impressive marketing campaigns and Housing Updates, and other innovative products to help agents win listings and improve our consumer experience. In my work at John L. Scott, I aim to simplify the user experience and our product offerings to meet the needs of our real estate agents and encourage implementation of our products. This ensures agents can trust the product offering, increase adoption and also take advantage of the support from our talented information technology department.
While technology is a massive enabler for the real estate industry, relationships are a key ingredient to a successful business model. A real estate broker/agent provides invaluable expertise to buyers and sellers that can’t be completely replaced with automation. Agents help their clients navigate complex transactions, share tailored market and neighborhood knowledge, and are highly skilled in pricing and negotiation techniques. While technology innovations will continue to drive automation in real estate, consumers for the foreseeable future will depend on agents as they make one of the most important decisions in their lifetime.