Have We Reached the End of Open Houses?


A recent New York Times article discussed the virtual reality technology that Halstead, a leading real estate developer, has invested in to provide a realistic walk around its new building construction. Matthew J. Leone, senior vice president of digital marketing for Terra Holdings, Halstead’s parent company, noted, “We sell based on emotion and attaching that emotion to a vision — for a salesman, it’s a dream come true.” The article mentioned that other real estate companies are also hoping to add virtual reality technology as a way to give individual brokers a competitive edge. It further states that this type of technology is expected to transform the real estate industry, make house-hunting more efficient and even phase out open houses. While the technology is not completely user-friendly yet, future enhancements include letting users see their own hands opening doors and closets; and adding smells such as baking cookies to create a warm homey environment.

When I look at real estate agents and how they are using technology, NAR has provided its members with electronic signature technology, a smart idea that recognizes consumers do not want to waste time coming to the office to sign forms. Real estate agents and their use of social media is another indicator of how housing finance is changing quickly. NAR’s last annual report stated that 91% of agents use social media with Facebook the dominant format.

On the other hand, when I look at our industry, it seems to me that the mortgage origination side of the business is way behind the curve on using technology to deliver a better customer experience. Even Quicken’s recent promotion of Rocket Mortgage has been touted as controversial for making mortgages too easy when that should be the goal of every mortgage lender in my view. By the way, the technology Quicken is promoting has been around for a while. The reality is that lenders haven’t committed to using the new technology and promoting it. Quicken is smart to do so because it reinforces their image as a cutting edge company committed to making the process easier for the consumer.

During sales training engagements, when I survey originators, I am surprised at how few are active in social media. I find that the better producers use this tool but average originators are resistant and find comfort that their lenders are not requiring it of them. Of course, some lenders will not allow a social media presence due to perceived risks but no lender can prevent an originator from having a personal page that does not discuss business or lending issues.

This leads me to an interesting conversation I had with a company’s top producer who just recently focused on Facebook and her interest in shoes. She related that as she increased her Facebook activity, her volume increased. Facebook was the only effort that was different for her and the result was she did an additional $10 million in loan volume. Just think, originators could potentially receive another 40 or 50 loans a year without doing much except share what they are passionate about — using it seems a no-brainer to me.

Originators who incorporate social media into their daily sales activities will be ahead of the game when it comes to competing and winning in the years to come.