As we enter a new decade, the massive wave of technological advancements fueled by entrepreneurial tech companies has reshaped consumers’ expectations. Companies such as Uber and Amazon have both dramatically shortened the time that people expect to wait for gratification and raised consumers’ expectations with regard to the ease and smoothness of the experience. That is, consumers now expect to press a button and have whatever it is that they want delivered to them in a matter of a couple days (Amazon shipments), hours, or even minutes (Uber rides); moreover, they want to be able to track their shipment’s progress through a simple, pleasing interface on their phones.
While consumers now expect smooth, pleasant and near instant gratification in most aspects of their lives, the real estate home sale process still typically takes 30 to 45 days and — due to its complexity, legal ramifications, and the fact that it is an ongoing negotiation between multiple parties — it is usually neither frictionless nor “fun.” This growing friction between consumers’ expectations and the longer duration and complexity of completing a real estate transaction has made the industry ripe for innovation. What follows are the likely developments that will make real estate transactions faster and easier over the coming decade.
1. The home search-to-closing customer journey. The days of agents-as-gatekeepers of real estate listings are gone. These days, most buyers start their search online and look at up to hundreds of homes to educate themselves. When they get serious, though, about 90 percent of buyers (and sellers) choose to use an agent to help them with the home buying/selling process.
Why is that? It’s because Realtors realized that they needed to change their value proposition to buyers and sellers in order to stay relevant and, well, valuable. One of the challenges for buyers and sellers is that, with the exponential growth of information available on the internet, the amount of “noise” has grown exponentially as well, but the valuable information (the “signal”) has become harder to find. Today’s Realtors have things that are in short supply online: hyperlocal and market knowledge, a network of trusted vendors and professionals, expert negotiation skills, a refined process to make the home buying/selling experience less painful, etc. These skilled Realtors who have adapted to consumers’ shifting expectations provide their clients with better technology, a smoother process, and expert advice. Those agents who fail to adapt will eventually exit the business.
Other innovators, such as so-called iBuyers, will make you an offer, often within a day, to buy your home for cash quickly. This convenience, however, comes at a cost, as many iBuyers will likely cost you two-to-five times more out-of-your-pocket than using a Realtor would.
2. The loan experience. Typically, the longest (and perhaps most annoying) part of a real estate transaction is the loan process. Many lenders can take 30 days or more to complete their due diligence, including their assessment of your loan-worthiness and an appraisal of the home, before approving a home purchase loan. Anyone who has been through this process knows how frustrating and slow it can be.
Fortunately, at least for many people, this process may get a lot shorter and easier. Lenders are using artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct automated appraisals on properties and help with assessing buyer’s applications. For “in the box” situations, with well-qualified “W2 employees” buying homes that the AI algorithms can value with a high degree of confidence, the underwriting process can be dramatically shortened without the need for a physical appraisal. This is already a reality — last fall, we represented buyer clients whose lender did not require an appraisal on the home they were buying and gave them very fast loan approval.
3. The title and closing process. Almost everything can seemingly be accomplished these days online from the comfort of your home. However, at least in Colorado, you still need to physically go to the title company and hand-sign a stack of documents in front of its notary public (how barbaric, right?). Well, this isn’t actually the title company’s fault, as many lenders — and state law — still require physical notarization of certain documents.
The good news is that this may change in 2020, if the Colorado legislature passes a bill similar to Senate Bill 18-109, which would allow optional remote notarization of documents. If such a bill were to become law, then notarizations could be done using audio-video recording of the document signing (kind of like signing over Skype or FaceTime, but with more layers of security). Thus, you would be able to close on the purchase/sale of your home from anywhere in the world, so long as you have a good internet connection.
Conclusion. The players in the real estate industry have (finally) recognized that consumers’ expectations and demands have shifted and are innovating quickly to make the home buying and selling process faster, easier, and more enjoyable (or, at least, less painful). Within the next few years, many people will be able to buy/sell a home in half the time or less than it takes on average today, and with a lot less disruption to their lives.
Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.