How a real estate agency has embraced technological change
Brought to you by owner of Network Overdrive, Greg Clarkson, our Taste of Technology video series brings real life case studies of Australian businesses direct to you. Discover how other businesses are utilising managed service providers to help grow their business.
Greg: Hello, I’m Greg Clarkson from Network Overdrive, and welcome to the latest of our series of Taste of Technology. I’m here with Adam Guest from Wilson Agents. How are you?
Adam: I’m very well. Thank you, Greg.
Greg: That’s great to hear. So tell us about Wilson Agents and what you do.
Adam: We’re a residential agency that has three offices. All network with each other. We manage residential and commercial properties. We also obviously sell real estate as well through the three offices. We manage residentially about 1,780 odd[SP] properties and about 250 odd[SP] commercial properties.
Greg: Wow, that’s a big number.
Adam: Yeah, it’s a big number. And it keeps us on our toes all the time.
Greg: Yeah, I can imagine. And sales, how many people would be in the sales side?
Adam: Sales department, we have approximately about 11 salespeople.
Greg: And I imagine, you never stop…I mean real estate agents, you’re working almost seven days a week.
Adam: Yeah, it is a seven-day-a-week job. You become very, very used to it. You’ve given up your weekends. You just make sure you have more breaks during the year.
Greg Yeah, that’s right. I can imagine. And in that operation, what sort of technology do you use to do your business?
Adam: Well, obviously, the three offices are networked. We use social media obviously to a great extent now, more so than we did from the past. All of our management’s done obviously through software. All the offices are networked together. Our biggest problem at the moment would be speed. As you know, it’s a nightmare. Servers are also a nightmare. So we’re looking at options of going into cloud. Mobile phones…I mean it’s all technology-based, iPads, done for condition reports, laptops for, you know, the salesmen out on the road. It’s just endless.
Greg: It’s endless. And could you imagine doing business without email?
Adam: We actually did once upon a time. I remember those days very fondly. You could actually go with a lot more speed at times.
Greg: Yeah, you would like to go back there perhaps.
Adam: Sometimes, I wish I was back there. Unfortunately, with emails and things of that nature, you don’t actually get a break. No matter where you are, you’re always checking your emails. And it’s always something work-related. And that’s all part of the job now.
Greg: That all part of…
Adam: So it’s 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.
Greg: And I would imagine that you are fairly large or midsized in the marketplace.
Adam: In management, we would be considered midsized, large to midsized. In sales, we’d be considered, I suppose, midsized. So we’re not the large ones, but we’re trying to get there slowly but surely through organic growth.
Greg: I understand. And you just have mentioned some of the challenges that you’ve had that now as you’re growing and you’re having more properties that the speed is an issue. Every time your IT system’s slowing down, you can feel it. Your staff can feel it. You‘re not getting the results that you want.
Adam: It frustrates the staff. I think part of our problem is one of the softwares that we use for property management must be archaic now by standards of what’s out there, based on, I suppose… When it was first introduced, which is quite a number of years ago, it was the market leader. And as things changed, it progressively got better. They just bolted on things on to the same platform. And what you got now is a very large platform that has a very, I suppose, clunky product. So we are looking at options at the moment.
Greg: I think this is like what would be called “technology debt.” You’re carrying a technology debt. You had a system that worked well for you in the past. And now, it’s becoming something that’s holding you back. And thinking about…how do you deal with that? Where do you go with that?
Adam: I’m pretty open with change. I mean there are people that don’t change with the times. I have a very open mind. I know there’s always something new out there. It’s obviously a question of cost. I don’t like to be the first person off the rank to get into that software because it just changes so quickly. There’s new products every single day. There’s always something new. There’s something else. If you go back, I suppose, to marketing and advertising, you had in the old days the H[SP] which controlled the real estate marketing total for marketing advertising. As time went on, some young company came up called realestate.com. And no one really wanted to take shares. You know, a couple of people took a part. And we thought they’d never take off the ground. And…I mean that’s all obviously history.
Greg: Now, they’re the market leader.
Adam: They’ve effectively decimated… But that mistake that they’re making, they’re actually doing what the H did. They’re now, I suppose, in almost a monopoly situation. And they are putting up the price accordingly. And for what they provide and for what they’re charging, I don’t think it’s balanced, unfortunately. But in saying that, I think that as the market…oh, not the market, as technology moves on, there will become alternatives to realestate.com. And I suspect that what will happen in turn, they’ll possibly go that same as the H did in time.
Greg: That’s the risk.
Adam: Yeah. Well, I think people are looking out for alternatives by, I suppose, getting databanks of people, just getting, you know, all of your clients that you’re dealing with, tenants that you’re dealing with, putting them on to your database. Then you broadcast to them when you have a vacancy or if you’re selling something. That market will increase. And then you’ll be out to avoid that top marketing.
Greg: I find it interesting because that’s big data, what you’re talking about. And some people would think that only the multinationals or the big business can be interested in big data. But as a midsized business, you actually need to have control over your own data and use that in the most effective way and not just give away your information to other people to make money out of.
Adam: Well, it’s happened gradually over time. But I think that people are becoming more conscious of the effect of cost, and cost is forcing us into a different direction. So many costs… I suppose you control your own destiny by doing it through your own marketing. And when you’re marketing your own product, you’re not competing against other product which is the same on the marketplace, because what you have, you’re specifically and exclusively dealing with your database.
Greg: Yeah, that’s right.
Adam: And that’s what you’re trying to do, just constantly trying to build your database.
Greg: And that’s the tension between going to cloud and all the advantages of cloud. But then, by going to cloud, you might be using the same solution as every other real estate agent that’s out there. And you got to weigh those [inaudible 00:06:39]…
Adam: No, I don’t think that’s issue. I think it’s more the…I suppose, the client base that you can gather over time.
Adam: You keep or try to keep clients for life. In the old days, you used to have a phone number and a postal address. If they moved home, they change their phone number, and they change their postal address, and you have to try and track them down. Today, everyone has an email address. How often do people just leave their email address behind? They don’t. They take it wherever they go. So you’ve got that constant communication with those people. So that’s all changed.
Greg: Very good. And so with your crystal ball looking into the future, so where do you think things might go in a few years’ time?
Adam: In our industry, I believe it will be more cloud-based. Pretty much, we’d be totally cloud-based within the next five to seven years I would’ve thought, possibly sooner. As far as your database, that will keep on growing, and that will be more valuable. I think that at some point in time, if I was looking at a crystal ball, you may get other, you know, companies, I suppose, pooling their resources as far as their bases are concerned to avoid using the likes of realestate.com or domain.com. That’s just my personal view. I may be wrong, but…
Greg: Yeah, who knows? We’re looking to the future. We always feel that tension between, like you said, dealing with legacy, which is the tried and true but not working exactly how the business is going. And then also you got the new stuff, but you don’t want to be the first cab off the rank to work on that. So how to stay flexible and agile but also you still got a business to run, people who know old systems, so how you move them with you into the new world, whether it’s 100% cloud. And you got different issues with staff as well, I imagine on that.
Adam: You do. Staff training is a very big thing. And again, the younger generation coming through have a very different approach to communication, more so than my generation and even your generation.
Adam: They’re very savvy with communication. Social media, I think, is good and bad at the same time. You know, I personally don’t like it. But that’s where it’s all at. I mean people know everything that you do all the time. You see people putting everything on their Facebook page or on Twitter or whatever it might be. I still scratch my head at times wondering, “What the hell! [inaudible 00:08:56] people wanna know [inaudible 00:08:56] my house?
Greg: Yeah. Well, that’s amazing, Adam. I think you do a fantastic job at Wilson Agents. I see you as a very progressive real estate agency. You’re making more often the right decision in terms of technology, in terms of moving forward and doing that balancing act between getting the features and benefits, the maximum you can out of your old systems as well as grabbing hold of the new things and taking them.
Adam: It’s cost-related. At the end of the day, you really look at the return of the dollars, where do you put your dollars. If you went with every single suggestion that came about, you’d go broke in five minutes. You’ve got to do the best with what you’ve got and add on, I suppose, and gradually and progressively change. When you do make a major change, you’ve got to look at the economic benefits in doing so. And that’s one of the things that I look out very closely.
Greg: Well, thanks again for your time.
Adam: My pleasure.
Greg: And I hope this has been helpful for others out there.