Seeds of Digital Change in the Real Estate Market

By: Dan Green for Progress in Lending

Remember the days when stacks of paper, numerous phone calls, and “snail mail” made up the heart of the mortgage process? Yes, we are referring to those days in the not-so-distant past before the technology revolution made the all-digital mortgage a possibility. As we’ve seen, this technology revolution took the mortgage industry by storm, drastically improving day-to-day operations and increasing efficiency. A similar technological future awaits the home seeking process. As this future reveals itself, it is in our best interest as lenders to remain up to date with these changes to foster collaboration with real estate agents. Advanced planning and networking now will lead to a natural pipeline of referrals, allowing our future origination business to grow in unprecedented ways.

The initial stages of searching for a home have become almost exclusively digital, activating yet another technological revolution. Logically, the initial home buying effort begins with a simple online search to gauge market availability and pricing while also honing in on certain types of homes or neighborhoods. According to a recent report, about 90% of prospective home buyers use some type of online search in their home buying process. As millennials continue to make up more and more of the first time home buying population, the use of internet throughout the process will only increase.

As a result of this increase, home buying technology must continue to improve as well. Outside of current online listings and search functionality, there is limited digital capability to make an offer on – and ultimately purchase – a home online. Fortunately, seeds of change are already being planted through a few digital real estate companies that offer the capability to search, list, sell, and buy properties completely online. Similar to the all-digital mortgage where lenders and borrowers are notified of status updates through loan origination software, so too will home buyers and sellers make and receive offers and updates simultaneously. At first glance, it may seem like these digital changes eliminate the need for real estate agents altogether. Quite the contrary. Traditionally, the agent has handled the networking, contracts, and negotiation that are involved in the home buying process. Although many of these components will likely be handled digitally in the future, it is in the best interest of lenders, and borrowers, to continue partnering with real estate agents for a couple of reasons.

Networking Requires People. First, very few, if any, prospective home buyers want to buy a house sight unseen, so the agent becomes an important local resource in setting up showings. In addition to traditional showings, agents may also have the networking connections to point interested buyers in the direction of properties that would otherwise not be considered. Next, community appeal is a vital factor. Conversations with real estate agents can shed light on the unique local flair of an area, and help match the desires of the borrower with a fitting community. Realtors® may also use their local connections to recommend good inspectors, contractors, and other key individuals involved in the purchase of a home.

Digital Savviness Isn’t for Everyone. Additionally, depending on how comfortable the buyer/seller are with the online tools, the agent may be called upon to use their knowledge and expertise to perform the online negotiations and contractual components on their client’s behalf. Ultimately, this makes the process easier for both buyers and sellers, as well as ensures compliance from a legal standpoint. Thus, just as the role of the loan officer progressed with the all-digital mortgage, so too will the role of the real estate agent transform according to shifting digital demands. The future belongs to agents who are willing to adapt to these demands and take on more of a specialized, hybrid role within the industry.

What does all of this mean for lenders? Having a strong network of real estate agents will always be a sure way to increase origination business. Despite changes in the home buying process, agents will still spend more time with the home buyer than any other party. If you have the trust of the real estate agent, you’re more likely to win the trust (and business) of the home buyer.

As the real estate market begins to perfect and streamline this new process of buying a home, the logical next step is to integrate the mortgage process with the digital purchase of the home. Think of the visibility and brand awareness that would come along with having your institution’s loan products displayed alongside a listing of the buyers’ dream home. Whether this be in the form of a partnership or direct integration with the real estate websites, there’s no doubt it would be advantageous to all parties involved. No matter what changes are thrown our way within the housing industry, there’s no doubt proper preparation and innovation are key to remaining ahead of the digital curve.