Talking Technology with John McGrath

Technology, tools, interceptors, and the role of the real estate agent in the future. With many changes continuing in and around the industry we asked McGrath founder John McGrath to give us his thoughts on what he believes the near future will bring.

What are the tech tools agents will need in the future?
For prospecting and listing, a solid CRM database system which categorises customers to allow you to send only relevant messaging to each client will be important. Curation of messaging will become more and more significant as people get bombarded with information. The next big thing will be predictive algorithms which allow agents to identify potential sellers and proactively service their needs.

In terms of property marketing, large portals have changed the way property is marketed forever, and this will continue to grow and become more tailored to each buyer. Social media marketing is rapidly gaining momentum and I see it playing a far greater role in the marketing mix from here. Targeted marketing, again using masses of different data to pinpoint your best buyers, will be the next wave in property marketing.

For productivity, there are many tools now available and most do an equally good job. As our industry is very mobile and information-intensive, the key technology platforms that allow us to operate from anywhere in the field and provide customers whatever they need in real time will be invaluable. Video is also a key tool in a people-centric industry, so the platforms that allow agents to have real-time face-to-face meetings when in the field will become more important. People still like to see who they’re dealing with.

What about the future of interceptors such as OpenAgent and LocalAgentFinder? What sort of role will they play in the future?
I’ve never been a fan of the interceptor groups; I personally feel their model is flawed. In a business world where margins are under pressure, for these companies to seek 10 per cent or 20 per cent referral fees for zero value-add seems totally unsustainable to me. In essence they appear to advertise a service to introduce potential sellers to agents and provide data to assist in their decision-making. I suspect this type of data is easily accessed elsewhere and therefore the model won’t endure; I have seen similar models over the years and none exist today. It’s easy for most sellers to get ample data and insights to select a good agent, so I don’t see a future for these businesses.

Is the development of proprietary technology still a competitive advantage for franchisors and large groups?
We have always had our own proprietary platform internally, which we believe will give us an edge going forward. The costs are high; however, we believe that in the future it will give us the flexibility to do things the way we want rather than in an industry-wide manner. We are about to release our newest version and it will have a number of functionalities that will put our team at an advantage, so we believe the effort and investment will be worth it.

There’s lots of talk about the ‘one-stop-shop’ of real estate. What other services or adjacent opportunities do you think business owners should be considering now or in the future?
I think agents will inevitably become a conduit for many services that are needed by buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords moving forward. If you build trust with a customer, then they will be delighted to have your input and assistance in selecting the best service providers. Home loans are an essential part of every real estate transaction and therefore an obvious service to provide. I don’t see many agents becoming the actual provider of all the possible services, but they should become the curator and conduit to the best local services.

Where do you see the role of a real estate agent in 2017 and beyond?
I see technology as being more of an enabler than a disruptor. Let’s face it, Purplebricks is not a new idea. Approximately five per cent of Australians have been selling their own home without an agent for many years. Purplebricks will be a good option for those people who wish to sell without an agent. But history tells us that, when it comes to the largest financial transaction in your life, most people would rather have an expert handle it for them.

Platforms like realestate.com.au have allowed us to reach more people faster and for less money than ever before. I think social media in the main will be the same: a great channel for us to connect with potential customers as well as find new buyers. Agents who have built strong reputations for value-adding and integrity will continue to build their business.

Those who have been order-takers in a strong market and don’t significantly improve the customer’s outcome will no longer exist.

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.