AS CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER at Domain Group, Damon Pezaro oversees technology at Fairfax Media’s property platform. He tells Elite Agent where real estate tech is headed and how agents can best harness the latest developments. Story by Anthony O’Brien
HAVING STARTED his digital career in 1999, Damon Pezaro has spread his time across a number of start-ups and larger corporates in the UK and Australia, such as 3H Group, OurDeal.com.au and News Digital Media, and has been with the Domain Group since 2013. His lengthy experience means he has lived through massive changes in the digital landscape and has witnessed how technology has pushed executives, businesses and consumers to adopt new ways of thinking.
WHAT IS DOMAIN’S TECHNOLOGY FOCUS NOW?
Surprisingly, Pezaro did not mention the buzz phrase ‘digital disruption’ once during our interview. Rather, he says Domain is focused on the latest mass consumer trends impacting all industries, including real estate. “If you start changing behaviour, it will have wide-ranging impacts,” he says.
In his role with Domain Group, Pezaro is concentrating on the opportunities and challenges facing real estate agents. He notes that a lot of technological advancements are for technology’s sake alone. “We are interested in things that add value, and this involves understanding the day-to-day life of our customers, who are real estate agents,” he says.
To this end, Domain Group conducted an extensive survey of thousands of agents across Australia. “Whether it was a principal of a business, a receptionist or a sales agent, we wanted to understand how real estate professionals go about their working days or weeks,” says Pezaro. “We then looked for the pain points where technology can help.”
Domain has a couple of digital businesses that Pezaro especially highlighted: MyDesktop, a cloud-based real estate CRM platform, and the property data business, APM PriceFinder. “APM PriceFinder has direct relationships with real estate agents and the banking industry, who leverage the data,” Pezaro says. “It’s a trusted brand, and we’re always looking at ways that the data informs and empowers the industry.”
For over 30 years, APM PriceFinder has delivered comprehensive property data, market insights and products to real estate professionals across Australia. Domain recently announced a significant milestone, the merging of two products, APM Property Data with APM PriceFinder, to create a centralised property intelligence solution that incorporates comprehensive data and estimates for over 13 million properties nationwide. APM PriceFinder enables real estate professionals to integrate powerful reporting tools into their businesses to help with prospecting, customer interactions and brand exposure. “The mobile use of these products is a major trend. We are always trying to match our products to the mobile needs of our customers,” says Pezaro.
TECHNOLOGY AS AN ENABLER
At Domain Group, Pezaro says the aim is to look at technology as an enabler that can enhance real estate functions. The company wants to make it easier for real estate agents to follow up enquiries, deliver quality customer service and offer their customers a simpler transaction process, according to Pezaro. “Buying a home is an emotional rollercoaster, and we need to consider how we use technology to help consumers make better and more informed decisions,” he says.
Domain is continually seeking ways it can help free up real estate agents to focus on the things that matter, such as building deeper relationships and providing better customer service, according to Pezaro. “We try to advise consumers throughout the process,” he says. “We have an incredible talent pool of journalists who write about property and can help consumers know about what’s going on in the market. Then we need to back this content with the best user experience, whether you’re buying or selling a home, and [make the process] as pain-free as possible.”
TECHNOLOGY WILL NEVER REPLACE AGENTS
The reality is that for the average Australian, whether buying or selling, a property transaction is a major financial decision and a consumer needs the right person in his or her corner. “The expertise that agents have in their markets is phenomenal. I know myself, the first time I sold a property, I got an offer and my response was, ‘Take it, take it.’ You get caught up,” says Pezaro. “However, we’re starting to see that technology is freeing up agents from doing repetitive paperwork and time wasting, allowing them to do traditional relationship building. It’s about freeing them to spend more time speaking to their vendors to help them understand where the market is at.
“We also want to free them up from being stuck in the office and get them out into the real world doing what they do best: offering traditional relationship building. [These are] the old-school fundamentals of business – face-to-face relationships, education, awareness – which are so valuable to the real estate process.”
Domain Group recently made an investment in Homepass, an app which is focused on the open-for-inspection process. The Domain property app is now synced with Homepass, a partnership that is set to make it easy for real estate agents to deliver a seamless customer service experience at property inspections using a mobile device. With less time spent capturing contact details and the ability to view visitors’ profiles, Homepass enables better conversations, creating the ability to greet visitors by name and engage with more prospective buyers rather than with the paperwork.
The system also allows for streamlined two-way engagement with sellers – agents can update their vendor instantly with post-inspection snapshots sent from their mobile. “Many agents still use pen and paper to record the names of those people who attend an open for inspection,” says Pezaro. “Then they have to go back to the office and type in all that information. We are automating the process, making it easier than ever before to keep your CRM up to date with data collected during open for inspections. As soon as you check-in a buyer, that information is automatically loaded into your CRM. You can then spend more of your valuable time speaking with buyers and learning more about them. It won’t replace anyone, but enhances the experience.”
Chat apps connected to artificial intelligence-powered services are receiving a big investment of time and money from companies such as Google, Facebook, Snapchat and Apple. The result is that the number of chat and personal assistant apps is on the rise.
Google offers Google Now, which is much like Apple’s Siri. In 2014, Facebook separated its Messenger functionality from within Facebook, making it a standalone app, and also bought cloud messenger WhatsApp for US$22 billion. In April, at F8, the Facebook Developer Conference, Mark Zuckerberg presented the latest release of Messenger, inviting businesses to set up official profiles and allowing them to chat to multitudes of customers at once through chat bots. There’s one school of thought suggesting that chat bots could one day become as important as apps.
Domain has recently launched their Facebook ‘bot’ to chat with consumers. “One possible use of this technology is, for example, to message the Domain Facebook page and ask it for properties around you and then hit another button that provides you with an estimated valuation for the property. It’s about bringing the insights as close to the user as possible. This enables a consumer to make better informed real estate decisions.”
Now Facebook is testing an app called M, a personal digital assistant they say “can complete tasks on your behalf” – for example, booking restaurants and organising holidays. For Domain, says Pezaro, it’s important to understand how this technology will evolve and change behaviour, both in a real estate office and when dealing with the customer.
NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Pezaro is also following closely the rise of free community-based social media networks such as Nabo, which is being used in thousands of suburbs across Australia, helping residents to get the best out of their local area. You might use Nabo to recommend and discover the best local events and attractions, a trusted service provider or tradie, or the best coffee in town. Alternatively, you may want to create a support network of local people who can keep an eye on your home or pet while you’re away. And in the spirit of Neighbourhood Watch from the last century, Nabo aims to grow a stronger neighbourhood together.
“Using the likes of Nabo is a great way for agents to connect with their communities,” says Pezaro. “A microsocial networking platform is no different to how a real estate agent would engage with people at a kids’ soccer game on a Saturday. It’s not about advertising every single listing you have.”
Social media provides an opportunity to leverage real estate agents’ phenomenal local area knowledge, according to Pezaro: “They have their fingers on the pulse. Using social media platforms is about recreating this in a digital sense and imparting knowledge that is helpful to people.”
Most agents are adopting new technologies, but it’s important that technology use is guided by how it can help them in their businesses, contends Pezaro. “It’s not feasible for you to spend six hours [a day] on Facebook trying to build your social presence, because your core business will fail,” he says. “It’s better to work out how technology can help and where to invest your time and money. You have to work out how to embrace technology so it’s applicable to your real-world experiences.
“Often you hear stories of people, not necessarily in real estate, throwing large sums of money at technology and it doesn’t work for them. It is about making your life simpler, and that is what technology is about.”
Pezaro’s single biggest piece of advice to real estate agents is not to hide behind technology. “It’s really easy to respond with a message when a face-to-face conversation or phone call goes further,” he says. “When you start sending too many messages, I would caution against that.”