Empowering the agent: 30 minutes with REA Group’s Simon Hope

Online auctions and virtual inspections are part of real estate’s ‘new normal’, with more consumers than ever turning to technology to transact real estate. But as REA Group’s Simon Hope explains, technology and data are not enough on their own. They need to be coupled with actionable insights and benefits that agents and their clients can use to take the next step in their property journey.

The pandemic accelerated digitisation of the real estate industry and it’s here to stay. 

Tools were introduced to help agents work faster and smarter, allowing them to build deeper relationships with clients, which is more important than ever before.

That’s the view of REA Group General Manager Residential, Simon Hope, who says the value chain in real estate depends on human capital, but that technology is a key platform strengthening the chain.

“It’s people and relationships that fundamentally underpin real estate,” he says.

“So, our goal is to essentially provide that layer of technology and data there to help real estate professionals create powerful relationships, and that’s how they succeed.”

Here to stay

Simon says a large portion of REA’s customer base had already started their digital journey, but over the past 18 months, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the adoption.

From online auctions to digital inspections and electronic document signing, technology has enabled the industry to continue transacting during the COVID-19 era.

“These tools are here to stay,” Simon says.

“I read a McKinsey and Company quote recently, and it said something like, ‘There’s no going back. The great acceleration in the use of technology, digitisation and new forms of working is going to be sustained’.

“I think that says it all, really.”

Simon notes REA’s most recent Property Seeker Survey reveals that virtual inspections have helped boost buyers’ confidence when it comes to making a purchase.

“About 59 per cent of buyers were more likely to request an in-person inspection, and about 53 per cent were more confident in evaluating the value of a property if the property had been listed with a virtual inspection,” he says.

“Last year, in particular, we saw a massive increase in the use of digital inspections and online auctions.

“More recently, we’re starting to see a growing confidence amongst our customers towards digital.

“I think in the beginning, there was a degree of nervousness, but necessity and constraint accelerated their behaviour. Now, I think we’re seeing confidence in that people are shifting immediately to those tools because they’re an essential way of allowing our customers’ businesses to continue to trade.”

Building stronger relationships

But Simon notes REA Group’s suite of digital tools isn’t about technology for technology’s sake.

Instead, they’re about helping agents have more in-depth conversations and build stronger relationships with sellers and buyers.

“Ultimately, for us, it’s about empowering our customers with those tools and data to help give them time back so they can focus on what they do best,” he says.

The start of the real estate journey for agents and clients is the prospecting phase, and Simon says digital tools that help agents make those connections have never been more important than in a world where COVID-19 restrictions often mean face-to-face meetings aren’t possible.

“Digital prospecting tools provide the ability to have a relationship with a vendor pre-listing,” he says.

“The other thing we’ve noticed is that the speed in which an agent can turn around an inquiry for an appraisal using digital software is far higher, and the ability to respond quickly has an impact on the ability to win a listing.”

Time to connect

Recently, REA Group partnered with Realtair to help agents change the way they prospect with Connect.

Connect is a suite of products aimed at helping agents attract, nurture and convert leads digitally – Agent Elevate, Comparative Market Analysis (CMA), Pitch and Sign.

Agent Elevate is a premium profile that includes things like a larger photo and interactive map with an agent’s for sale and sold listings, as well as a monthly performance and insights report.

“We know that elevated profiles are 44 per cent more visible across realestate.com.au than a basic profile, getting an agent’s brand in front of even more buyers and sellers,” Simon explains.

“What that does is it positions the agent in the best possible light. They can put their best foot forward in terms of their sales performance, average days on market, ratings and reviews.

“It’s all there inside that profile, and from that profile, the agent has the ability to generate new leads and new business.”

From there, agents can use CMA to recommend the right price point to prospective clients, backed by realestate.com.au’s rich property data.

Agents can access millions of sold and on-market listings to build confidence with vendors, and then the comparables are embedded in Pitch by Realtair.

“What we’ve done is tightly integrate Realtair’s Pitch product with our data,” Simon says.

“So it’s super easy inside Pitch for an agent to prepare a proposal for the vendor, to filter the comparables they need to filter, and to pull through their performance information from the agent profiles on realestate.com.au, and send that with the click of a button immediately over to the vendor.

“What that agent can then do is see how the vendor is engaging with that proposal and follow up with a call. 

“Hopefully, if the agent has done their job, it gets to the digital signature on the Authority of Sale, and that’s where Sign plays a role.”

Ignite the future

Other avenues REA Group offers to help agents and agencies power their business forward and foster better relationships with established and prospective clients, including buyers, is through its Ignite app. 

“One of the things we want to do is ensure that every single buyer is an important buyer, irrespective of where that buyer is in their buyer journey,” Simon says.

One of the newest features in the Ignite app is Lead Enrichment, which Simon says focuses on improving the quality of conversations, and therefore relationships, agents have with buyers.

“There are three things Lead Enrichment has within it,” he says.

“The first thing is buyer readiness. So it says, ‘Is the buyer very early in the buyer journey or mid-buyer journey or very late in the buyer journey’?

“That helps the agent understand the level of nurturing the buyer might need.”

Lead Enrichment also examines a buyer’s search history and how that relates to the agent’s property the buyer is now inquiring about.

“Is the buyer searching in the same suburbs?” Simon says.

“Is the buyer typically looking at the same type of property configuration in terms of the numbers of beds and baths? Are they looking at the same type of property – a unit, a house or a townhouse?

“The final thing it does is provide a view of the level of engagement the buyer has had with the agent’s particular property.

“That’s a hugely powerful piece of information the agent can use in a conversation.”

Ignite also focuses on the selling side, providing valuable insights on how a property’s campaign is tracking, which fosters better, more in-depth, conversations with vendors.

“Enhanced campaign reporting is a critical tool for agents,” Simon says.

“We can provide the agent and the vendor with a really simple view of how their campaign is performing all the time.

“We can provide things like how many times a listing has appeared in search results, the property page views, how many times the property has been saved, and the level of engagement in terms of phone reveals and email inquiries.

“One of the really nice features we released last year, which had a huge uptake, was we provided an indication of which other properties a typical audience is engaging with. 

“This instantly helps identify which other properties you’re competing with. It might help an agent have a pricing conversation with a vendor or it might help an agent understand when the best time to go to auction is if the vendor’s listing is scheduled to compete with a number of other properties in the market on the same auction day.”

Inside an agency

Not all of REA Group’s digital tools are aimed at agents, with the Agency Dashboard, a new part of Ignite, focusing on giving principals an understanding of how their agency is performing against the market.

“We segmented that into how does an agency compare to the market in relation to how they win new business and how does an agency compare against the market in terms of how they move listings?” Simon explains.

“Once they’ve got listings, how many do they have in relation to the rest of the market?

“It’s a really powerful tool to use and helps principals understand the nature of their business in comparison to the rest of the market.

“It helps principals have those coaching conversations within their business and helps them improve performance within an agency.”

Simon says the key with technology and data is not to just launch tools without developing insights and actions that can be taken from them or put in place as a result of their existence.

In terms of what’s coming up for agencies and agents, Simon remains coy but promises there’s plenty in the pipeline.

“There’s a couple of really exciting things coming up in Connect in the next half (of the year),” he says.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.