Service, service, service: the rise of the concierge realtors

Apr 9th, 2015 | By FCT

When iTunes disintermediated record stores, an entire industry reeled. The real estate industry faces a similar disruption, with the pragmatics of Craigslist and owner-sold homes beginning to win traction for some homebuyers and sellers.

And now, with online housing intelligence (like Zillow.com) breaking down the last vestiges of what was once a closed, opaque process into open, transparent, customer-centric relationship—and the rise of mobile banking means customer expectations for service and value are even higher—realtors are feeling the heat.

But there’s already a way out of the squeeze.

Time is more than money: it’s the stuff of life itself—and we’re all working harder, often with less free time than ever. Savvy realtors are taking a page from the hospitality industry’s concierge model—a one-stop resource person with an encyclopedic knowledge of his/her hotel’s amenities and smart choices downtown for the traveller in sore need of downtime.

For realtors, the concierge concept isn’t just a quick fix for one-time real-estate-related needs: it’s a terrific strategy to endear themselves to equally time-strapped clients…who talk up their end-to-end services to other prospects—it’s a brand-building strategy to boot. For realtors with well-heeled overseas clients, concierge thinking has been a way of life for years—it’s expected.

Closer to home, the whole idea is to connect clients with vetted service providers and vendors and to smooth the complex, stressful and detail-ridden journey of moving into or out of a house. From title insurance to post-close tasks like an expert painter, HVAC service, utility account setup and appliance installs, the hundreds of tasks required for a completed move aren’t just overwhelming: in the context of most working lives, they mean serious life stress.

In a phrase: service, service, service is rapidly becoming as key to realtor success as location, location, location. A positive move outcome means smoother transitions for kids in a new school and even doubling up on a deal, as one realtor did when helping an incoming homebuyer sever a property and spin off $150,000 in profit on a second lot—two sales on one deal and one very happy client. The boost in sales is one thing: the lift in sales word-of-mouth, seller to seller, is another. One US concierge-driven real estate firm in downstate New York sees the service offering driving over a quarter of incoming referrals. Yikes: that’s low-hanging fruit.

The service is driven by trust: the realtor presents a shortlist of strategies and service suppliers for a given neighbourhood, vetted, trusted, proven tradespeople and service providers and ‘marries’ them to the homebuyer. A vetted home inspection service—FCT’s Certified Resale Home program is one—takes a huge worry off a buyer’s sprawling to-do list. Landscaping and garden care is another high-impact, low-cost concierge touch which really adds to the “we’re here and we’re happy” sense of truly having moved in.

For folks relocating a family with a new job, it’s vital to have reliable tools to navigate school enrolments and car and appliance care—because something always goes wrong and at the worst possible time for time-crunched movers. Here’s a story detailing how realtors in the city of Boston, its tech hub growing like crazy, are expanding their services to help grow the city’s economy, one relocating new Bostonian at a time.

And there’s a compelling reason for realtors to adopt the practice as a differentiator and a word-of-mouth generator: online one-click real estate transaction services are gathering steam on the US West Coast, where half a dozen transaction services offer start-to-finish online sales transaction services for buyers—with and, perhaps worryingly, without real estate agents required. One such service, homesearch.com, focuses on the huge inventory of foreclosed homes in the US and works to provide realtors with tools to decrease *their* running-around time as much as possible—concierge services for realtors themselves? Now there’s a win.

Homesearch.com isn’t alone: mindful of the burgeoning sharing economy, Silicon Valley’s smartest minds are looking to disrupt the biggest purchase people make in their lives; venture capitalists have backed three successful online real estate pilot projects in the Bay Area alone in 2014, looking for the Über or Air B&B of real estate—what a transaction on a mobile smartphone app can never replace, however, is something else altogether.

The sale and purchase of a house is already complex and time consuming; a trusted navigator of those elements of the process long simply handed off to the fretful incoming buyer by default, are in fact a rich opportunity to demonstrate not just service, but that intangible which so inspires a relationship for the next purchase: thoughtfulness.

In a day and age where speed is perhaps overvalued against simple human interaction, thoughtfulness, the heart of the concierge experience for real estate clients, is the one service nothing can disrupt.

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