What is the future of real estate online collaboration? A Frenchman by the name of Maurice Merleau-Ponty said it well, back in 1945:
In the experience of dialogue, there is constituted between the other person and myself a common ground; my thought and his are interwoven into a single fabric, my words and those of my interlocutor are called forth by the state of the discussion, and they are inserted into a shared operation of which neither of us is the creator.
Shared experience, shared conversation – made feasible through technology for every agent, for every client – is that future.
Existing MLS agent-client collaboration portals have a limited idea of “collaboration”; they don’t make it easy. Today, MLS agent-client collaboration starts with an agent setting up the search and automated email notifications of matches. In response to these emails, the client must log onto the portal and flag which properties he or she likes/doesn’t like and perhaps comment upon them. The agent is notified, and he or she has to catch up with what the client is doing, and adjust his or her approach accordingly by modifying the search. Eventually, the agent will propose or the client will select properties to visit and/or make an offer on, and the game ends. But this doesn’t seem to happen often; the way the system is designed and used today, many agents hold these “prospects” in client collaboration limbo for months or years.
This is a long way from communication between the agent and the client; it amounts to an elaborate system of digital smoke signals. Everyone has to receive their automated emails, log in, rate properties, and keep doing the same thing, over and over, until exhaustion sets in. This system is almost completely dictated by the legacy MLS software that drives everything. Rather than the software determining the means of communication – here, a very abstract and ritualized procedure – shouldn’t the need to communicate determine the design of the software?
The basic way in which we’ve communicated, from the beginning until now, before computers and email and the Web and mobile come into play, is conversation. It’s the way in which we learn things about each other, moment by moment. We give each other attention because we are in each other’s presence; we gain insight into what the other wants, and that gives us a sense of what to say or find out next.
The relationship between an agent and a client is – or should be – a conversation, in which trust is built and in which each finds out about the other. To the extent that technology gets in the way of that conversation, the technology has to change. Computers promise enormous economies of scale – an Internet full of prospects, vast numbers of clients, and the chance for big money. But, in the world of existing software, that vision is a little empty. You can send an email to 1,000 people with the agent’s name on it saying “There are now 100 new properties for you to view!” but will that make anyone care enough to click on the link, go through the exercise, and take the next steps toward the transaction? Volume is an illusion. You need a conversation, and technology has to make that possible.
I’ve been writing about the need to improve online client collaboration for many years – and recently some developers are starting to head down some of the paths I’ve been advocating, but there’s a long way to go. At some point, the online client collaboration module must evolve to fully reflect the breadth and complexity of offline collaboration and communication. Agents and clients form the most important relationships, but there are also relationships, almost as important, to be fostered among clients, their co-buyers, and their social sphere. The effect of creating and growing relationships through conversation is to create an intensely positive experience for everyone involved in the home buying transaction, one where each participant feels that it is so positive because he or she has been listened to and heard. As so much computer-mediated communication pulls in the other direction, towards 140-character tweets and 5-second Vines, a conversation-based approach will create emotional ties that will last beyond the transaction itself, years after the closing, because it will give the client so much more than he or she is expecting. It is worth breaking with the software conventions of the past and trying to create client collaboration software for the future.
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