Business Monday

On the Homefront/Broker’s View: If tech is a tool, your Realtor is the carpenter

Technology continues to impact business and topple the way we have done things for years. The cellphone you carry is actually a sophisticated mobile computer that enables you to easily do things that were dreams just five years ago. With so much power in reach, it’s a no-brainer for Americans to use technology to their advantage in residential real estate.

There are websites and smartphone apps that perform a dizzying array of real estate related tasks. Want to drive down the road and see in real time what recently sold and for what price? There’s an app for that. Want to check out crime stats for a particular neighborhood or radius? Easy.

In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors’ “2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers,” the first step in the home-buying process for 43 percent of home buyers was looking online for properties, and a whopping 92 percent of buyers reported using the Internet in some way in their home search process.

With so much intelligence at our disposal, it’s easy to start believing that anyone can become an “overnight expert.” Don’t believe the hype: That level of professional knowledge takes many years of feet-on-the-street experience to develop. Residential real estate is not the glamorous, magical stuff you see on TV. Instead, our industry is about our lives, and let’s face it — no two of us are alike. So, even with hundreds of new tools at our disposal, it is the human touch that makes a world of difference.

I tell my clients, whether buyer or seller, they need two critical things to create their real estate success. First, choose a competent, full-time agent who is a local expert. Second, ensure that that Realtor is a personality match with whom they can easily communicate, be honest with and trust. Once they have the right professional, technology can help, but not drive, the process.

As a Realtor, I meet with people every day who are at some stage of making a move. If they are a seller, they often cite a Zillow “Zestimate” as the way they have valued their home. Experienced agents like myself cringe upon hearing this because no one can accurately value a home from the outside. Despite sophisticated algorithms, Zillow gets it wrong quite often. Often enough that Zillow itself has a chart posted on its website showing how far and frequently the service misses the mark in different regions.

For example, in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, a Zillow estimate only comes within 5 percent of the actual sales price 31.3 percent of the time. They only get within 20 percent of a sales price 4 out of 5 times. That equates to being $100,000 wrong for a $500,000 house! As you can see, in this case, technology can actually be a distraction and an obstacle to success, giving homeowners a false sense of their home’s value.

An accurate home price valuation requires an inside tour. Age and condition of structures and systems, updates to kitchens and baths, and quality/appearance of finishes are essential to deriving value. No technology can see through time and space. It takes an experienced, professional, thinking human to get the job done right.

Sellers sell with emotion and nostalgia. Buyers buy using math and fact. Guess which one technology is more likely to assist? Yes, tech is strongest and most useful in the hands of buyers. Yet buyers should not be going it alone, either.

Buyers should be looking for an agent who is a value-add to their technology tools, meaning a Realtor who is locally knowledgeable to things that are not “Google-able.” Is there a noisy neighbor? What time will school drop-off traffic affect you? How is the area’s water pressure? Yes, these are important things that only a human can know are priorities, and details that you simply can’t look up online. It’s essential to find the “oracle” of your area, and that would be your friendly professional Realtor.

Technology is a very effective tool in our industry, and it continues to offer more value and appeal with each passing day. However, just like any hammer or a saw, it is used best and most effectively in the hands of an experienced carpenter.

Hal Feldman (MiamiHal) is a Realtor with RE/MAX Advance Realty. He can be reached at

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