By Christopher Alexander

Technology has disrupted virtually every service industry, from banking and retail, to taxis and travel. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t used Uber, Amazon or Airbnb in the past week – if not in the last 24 hours. So, what’s the difference between these trailblazers and others offering similar services? Quite simply, their customer experience strategy is all about being convenient, user-friendly and easy-access.

Change is also bubbling beneath the surface of Canada’s real estate industry, and big data is the catalyst. With the arrival of Zillow and Purplebricks in Canada, and most recently the public release of sold data, you can be sure that our industry will look different one year from now.



Change is often accompanied by fear, and in this case, the fear is that publicly available sold data will spell the end of the real estate industry as we know it. Instead of fighting the inevitable, I encourage agents and brokers to see this as an opportunity.

Let’s get real – people who are active in the housing market already know what the house down the street sold for. The fact is, sold data has always been available at public land registry offices and from agents directly. Now, it will also be accessible through password-protected web-based brokerages. With this information in hand, consumers will be better equipped to do their own research – and I’m a firm believer that a well-informed consumer is the best kind.

Realtor.ca is already Canada’s most comprehensive real estate listings site. When coupled with sold data, it will be a powerhouse. Similarly, the websites that offer more information will get more traffic and generate more leads. The real estate businesses that don’t give consumers what they want (recall: convenient, user-friendly and easy-access), will fall off the radar.

So, if real estate agents are no longer the gatekeepers of sold data, what’s their value proposition?

Sold data has been publicly accessible to consumers in the U.S. for more than a decade, and FSBOs represent a small fraction of sales – just eight per cent, according to a 2016 National Association of Realtors study. The study also found that the typical FSBO home sold for $190,000, versus $249,000 for agent-assisted home sales. How’s that for customer value? Other FSBO challenges – and agent benefits – include:

  • setting the right price
  • selling within the planned time frame
  • understanding and performing paperwork
  • preparing/fixing up home for sale
  • having enough time to devote to all aspects of the sale

In real estate, customer service and consumer experience is everything. Members of this industry who perform sub-par work are only serving to tip the consumer’s scale in favour of alternative services to buy or sell a home.

Key takeaway: it’s time to up your game.

There’s a limited number of homes out there to sell, but the number of companies vying for consumers’ attention is growing by leaps and bounds. Here are some things for real estate business owners to think about – not only to survive the industry disruptors, but to reap the rewards:

Wage tech war.

Technology is the big disruptor in the real estate industry and is a big lure for millennials and Generation Z, who will flood the market in the next few years. Think “mobile first” and consider engaging an innovation leader to ensure your business strategy is aligned with modern-day digital demand.

Give people what they want.

What do consumers really want, and how can you provide it better than the other guys? Re/Max surveyed 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada’s hottest housing markets, to learn more about their home-buying perceptions. The majority reported feeling stressed at the prospect of purchasing – 75 per cent in the Greater Toronto Area and 71 per cent in Greater Vancouver. Furthermore, 51 per cent of survey respondents in Greater Toronto and 57 per cent in Greater Vancouver reported feeling undereducated about the housing market and the buying process. Be the teacher, be their guide.

Think ahead.

Where’s your business today, and where would you like it to be five years from now? If “digital” isn’t part of the answer, make it so. This includes investigating and implementing new technologies to make your staff more efficient and improve the level of service they offer. Shift the company culture to embrace the change.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t imagine any 18-24 year old ever being able to purchase in Toronto or Vancouver. So those stats are not even a reasonable measure.

  2. After surviving this situation in the travel industry( data and client relationship questions) there are obvious differences, firstly we pay for data through board and other fees…consumer pays0$. Reps collect and create data shd we not have preferential access?
    This new model will have reps reviewing costs in detail based on value created,Brokerage,Board and association fees will be and should be questioned in value based service delivery.

  3. Chris,

    Thank you for writing this article and helping start a conversation that will move our industry forward. The majority of our industry is riddled with “agents” who are doing it part-time, sell less than 3 homes a year and frankly don’t spend the time to study, research and act as “fiduciaries” to their clients. 10% of the agents are doing 90% of the business and many of those agents are very skilled and bring great value to the buying and selling process. However, the agent image has suffered due to the majority and many times I’m embarrassed by my industry. We are also dealing with local Boards and Provincial associations that many times contradict each other; and with decreasing margins in brokerages many are struggling to reinvent themselves.

    This is good news for our industry and to those companies and leaders who want to be fully transparent to the consumer and who can bring greater value in the consultation and search process. It’s better that the consumer gets the information directly from their Realtors or from Realtor.ca without jumping through hoops rather than from companies who are just repurposing this data and their revenue model is to sell the consumer back to the Realtor and Brokerages that supplied it to them in the first place.

    We are living in the Costco and Amazon era and there is no going back. Businesses and people who cannot continue to create “value” to the public will suffer and others will emerge. I believe that the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) is changing its tune and I’m hopeful that CREA will further enable and arm their membership with tools and information to the benefit of both agent and consumer.

    So let’s put on our big boy pants and show the consumer and each other what we can do.

    Sunny Daljit
    Broker/Owner/Partner

    Keller Williams Mississauga Offices (Realty Solutions & Real Estate Associate)
    Keller Williams Ottawa Office (Integrity Realty)

  4. “The fear is that publicly available sold data will spell the end of the real estate industry as we know it.” This is an odd, possibly ignorant and possibly deceptive comment from someone at a regional director position. Anyone working at this level absolutely knows the concern is about the bigger picture/long term, about how and where this data is used, more importantly how it is allowed to be used. Put this data on Realtor.ca, remove American or international big data companies access to it and majority of concerns disappear. So yes, it is odd, ignorant and possibly deceptive by specifically ignoring the big picture.

    The fear is not about sold data it is about how big data in general will be used, and how that use appears to be on course for replacing, reducing or flat out eliminating jobs. Many jobs. Jobs that significantly contribute to Canada’s GDP and will no longer do so. Jobs that allow people to provide opportunities for their families.

    There is no foreseeable model where these jobs and lost incomes will be replaced or transitioned. Poof. They will just disappear and any dollars left will be sucked out of Canada and Canada’s GDP.

    Perfect example, Open Door in the USA has made some offers on properties that are 2-3% below market value. In fact there are USA Realtors that have claimed this company is overpaying above market value for some homes. They can only profit like this due to volume.

    What we see now is just the beginning, as business models are refined and new ones created it will be easier to replicate these 2-3% under market value models across North America, and perhaps eventually make them at market value.

    Do consumers really benefit in a race to the bottom and a smaller economy? What if that consumer works for a Canadian national retailer or local small business that goes out of business as economies “change”? Does this writer understand concepts like the velocity of money in an economy? Has this writer read the warnings that tech entrepreneurs have voiced about allowing American big data into Canada and the many negative impacts doing so could have on this nation?

    This article has lots of fluff and vague generalizations but lacks almost everything else.

  5. Sooner than Later a Provincially Licensed Real Estate Brokerage will file a Competition Bureau complaint against a local real estate board’s specific MLS rules and regulations that for decades have limited Competition in the Brokerage industry.

    It won’t be some silly right to a mere posting or right to publish selling prices complaint but rather the only anti-competitive practice all non-profit real estate boards in Canada have been built upon.

    That is the only Disruption that will transform how real estate is bought and sold in North America. It will be in consumers best interest at the cost of 110,000 desk rentals leaving 10,000 business owners who become increasingly proficient in the brokerage business.

  6. We do not need an American third party Internet company like Zillow in Canada. Big mistake. Agents who use it should be prepared for the cost. Why would anyone pay an American company? Why would agents send their money to the US? Why not put the money into expanding a great website like realtor.ca? Canadian agents will be steam rolled by the US, just like NAFTA. Please read the fine print and look to the future before signing on with Zillow.

  7. Is it true, that in the USA real estate boards do NOT distribute “Pending Sales” (ie arranged Agreements without conditions, but title not yet transferred & registered) to the public at all? – regardless of whether the Seller’s/Buyer’s data is made available with/without an easily defeated password-protection set-up?

  8. Great article. Serious disruption started happening in Nova Scotia a long time ago with viewpoint.ca and it’s a fantastic website. And now in BC we’re seeing Holywell Properties and its zealty.ca site. Finally consumers are getting what they want when they want it.

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