DAVID M. WALSH – ‘Really exciting’

A recent survey by a Virginia-based company shows a trend that most likely won’t surprise many Realtors: agents have been rapidly adapting themselves to the Internet. It’s that trend, local agents say, that is changing the way business is done, both in the Bay State and beyond.

The Gooder Group, a Fairfax, Va.-based publisher of marketing materials for real estate agents, has reported that one of its informal surveys reveals Internet adaptation among those in the real estate community has more or less skyrocketed since 1998. Their findings came after analyzing business cards collected at the National Association of Realtors’ annual trade shows in 1998 and 2000.

Of all the business cards collected in 2000 from real estate professionals, 30 percent had neither an e-mail address nor a Web site listed on the card. That figure is down from 40 percent with neither item on the card in 1998.

E-mail addresses appeared without a Web site address on a third of the cards in 2000, down from 40 percent in 1998. Five percent of the cards collected last year had a Web site listed, but no e-mail address. That compares to 11 percent with the same characteristics collected in 1998.

The most significant change, Gooder Group reported, was in the number of cards that had both an e-mail and a Web site on them. In 1998, just 7 percent had both elements on them. That figure swelled to 32 percent of the cards collected in 2000.

The unscientific findings were based on 1,700 business cards collected at the 2000 trade show, and 386 cards collected in 1998.

“I would say technology has increased in a big way,” said David M. Walsh, a Weymouth-based Realtor and 2001 president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. “More and more people are connecting.”

John M. Peckham III, executive director of the Boston-based Real Estate CyberSpace Society, said both informal surveys and hard numbers show Realtors are becoming more connected.

“Three years ago I did a talk at the NAR convention and asked how many Realtors had e-mail, and 15 percent of the hands went up in the room,” he said. “I always start off by asking that question, and that number has gone from 15 percent to about 95 percent.”

Additionally, he said membership in his society, based at www.recyber.com, has doubled every year since it was established in 1996 and now includes more than 3,000 members in more than 80 chapters in 25 different countries. Membership is expected to grow further as the organization has entered into a strategic alliance with a national real estate educational course provider.

‘Always Connected’
The move from more traditional forms of contact – such as face-to-face or via telephone – to communicating through e-mail and the Internet is contributing to a gradual change in the working style of the Realtor, as sitting at a desk in a storefront office is no longer always necessary.

“People are able to communicate instantly now,” Peckham said. “In some ways it’s almost a detriment to be in the office … My office is four floors away from my house in a 38-story building. Last year I sold $41 million worth of real estate, and I don’t even have a car.

“People paying the overhead in the office should be happy. They can take the money they invest in new technology and have it come out of the budget for the lights.”

Jay Burnham, an associate vice president in The DeWolfe Co.’s Beverly office who runs the Web site www.northshorerealestate.com, said he also finds himself working more outside of the office.

“People are spending more time away from the office. I’ve caught myself at home doing work, though the atmosphere in the office really gets me working. It’s just that you can do a lot more from home now,” he said, adding that a handful of brokers in his office also work from home. “With the Internet and e-mail, they can communicate with their clients [from home] and it appears like they’re doing it from the office.”

Of the 15 agents in his office, Burnham said nine are now using online software to assist them in their business. “One of those is a woman in her 60s who two years ago didn’t even know how to turn a computer on,” he said. “I now work from a cubicle. I used to need a whole office, but now I just need a headset and a computer.”

In his speech at the MAR officers installation dinner in December, Walsh said one of his goals for the coming year was to help increase the use of new technology among the membership in 2001 and sees that trend already occurring.

“One goal was to increase the number of Realtor e-mail [addresses] we have on file, and we have tons and tons of members with addresses now,” he said. “One of the main modes of communication [between MAR and its membership] is going to be through e-mail. It’s really exciting.”

Still, Realtors shouldn’t be expecting to see personal contact or the traditional real estate office rendered extinct anytime soon.

“Having a storefront is still important, because it’s a good place to meet your clients before going to look at a house, plus it’s a good place to go over agency disclosure and fill out all the other forms,” Burnham said. “Some of your older clients could care less about Palm[Pilot]s and other technology – they just need to see things on pieces of paper – whereas working with people in their 30s or 20s when I e-mail them, I get a response in five minutes because they have e-mail [devices] on their hip.”

“Some agents will never go near it,” Walsh said of newer technologies, “but overall you see it growing.”

With real estate agents increasingly being able to work from their homes and virtually anywhere else with the advent of wireless communication, it is especially important that agents know where and when to draw the line.

“The upside is you’re always connected,” Burnham said. “The downside is you’re always connected.”

“People still want to have more and more time for themselves,” he added. “Realtors need to be more disciplined now that they have access to all of this. You need to have a vacation.”

National Survey Shows Realtors Rapidly Adapting to the Internet

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min