Apologies for the late delivery of the Perspective this week, but I was felled by vertigo. An imbalance created by loose crystals in the inner ear, (literally, rocks in your head), vertigo had me walking into walls like a drunken sailor and flat on my back until the room stopped spinning and the nausea passed.
Prior to that, I'd spent a few days at the Inman Conference in San Francisco; an industry-wide gathering at the Hilton, Union Square that's perhaps real estate's largest convergence of brilliant minds and leading technology all coming together under one roof. In essence, it's a "think tank" for Realtors and real estate professionals alike and it was full of "wow" moments that left me with lots to ponder . . .
In fact, it may well be that my equilibrium imbalance was actually created by the dizzying array of booths in the "lab" or the flashing blue strobe lights and smoke-filled stage announcing the start of the morning and afternoon sessions. It was a slick and well-choreographed production, to say the very least, AND it moved along at lightning speed in "Ted Talk" style (a format I really appreciate) as panel after panel sat, shared their wealth of knowledge, and then were quickly replaced by another set of cutting-edge industry experts, each with their own take on the subject in a 15-minute, rapid-fire format. Forget about taking notes and pay attention!!!
The take away (for me anyway) from many of these burgeoning, successful start-ups or CEOs was their desire to "simplify" real estate and in many cases, deliver the information to the consumer directly (think Zillow, Redfin, and Open Home); a prospect that had many of us in the audience wondering (quite frankly) what the future will be for Realtors and how that brave new world will look? Will we find ourselves victims of technology the way travel agents did who, unexpectedly, became an endangered species, if not nearly extinct altogether?
Maybe, but while listening to the onstage messages to "differentiate," "use video" ("nobody reads anymore!"), and "embrace technology" (yeah, it's only getting more advanced), I was also simultaneously multi-tasking and writing a contract for a smart young couple trying to get into their first home ever in what is perhaps the most challenging marketplace we have ever experienced here in the Bay Area to date.
While this highly-educated couple could, and did, gather all kinds of information online (as does the average, young millennial) they needed a steady hand and an experienced voice to guide them through the disclosures(which were full of red flags!) the market context, the purchase agreement, the terms, the counter offer, and the escrow process in order to proceed. In the end, they weighed the pros and cons, and made the tremendous leap of faith that buying a home ALWAYS, and ultimately, requires in any marketplace and are now in escrow. BUT the decision came about only after visiting other properties, writing and losing the week before, and after many, MANY heartfelt, one-on-one conversations talking through the challenges of this particular property and the market as a whole. (This wasn't exactly a "turn-key" house.)
"How much do we need to offer?"
"What should we pay attention to in the disclosures?"
"What kinds of things need our immediate attention?"
"What are the ramifications and risks if we wait on certain 'Action Items'?'"
"Who do you recommend for a lender?"
"How long does it take to close?"
"What happens in escrow?" ("What IS escrow?")
"Do you have people that can help us do the work?"
"What inspections should we have?"
"How much time will we have to inspect?"
"What if something comes up we hadn't anticipated?"
"Is our 'good-faith' deposit protected?"
"What items will present as challenges once we go to sell?"
"Are we overpaying?"
'Where's the market going to be next year?"
And so it went (in rapid-fire) as it should. Listen, buying a house is no small feat (nor is selling one). This isn't a journey you want to take alone, nor should you. For most of us, it's our single-largest investment, and what's more, it's our home as well, so we'll be spending the next several years (or decades) in it! You want to make a savvy, long-term decision.
Can we duplicate or bypass the human component on the computer with the help of the latest technology?
I don't think so. No matter how much information we can attain electronically (especially in a market where demand exceeds supply) no two houses are identical, nor are the prevailing circumstances. In short, buying or selling a home take in a million and one variables that are tough to duplicate in a mathematical algorithm. With 53% of Buyers entering the marketplace for the first time, and the rest coming back to it after years of being on the sidelines, the nuances of the deal require local experience, high-touch negotiation and ongoing guidance. It's all about adapting in the moment on an individual basis.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that you can't find the answers you seek online in some FAQ readout somewhere, it's just that it's hard to discern what's truly important and where we need to pay attention. Moreover, your smartphone or Mac can't read your emotions, understand your fears, or help alleviate them when it comes time to act boldly. It can't weigh your personal risk on a human level or measure your degree of stress and anxiety. Until artificial intelligence can out feel human intelligence, I believe Buyers and Sellers will continue to seek out the help of experienced Agents who've walked through fire and lived to tell the tales.
At least I hope so. In the meantime, I've got to get on that video thing. I guess "nobody reads anymore!" (That's news to me.)
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.