5 Must-Have Real Estate Technology Tools That Every Top Agent Needs

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What do these three things have in common: Netflix, the menu at Cheesecake Factory, and real estate technology?

If you said “too many choices,” pat yourself on the back or give yourself a gold star. From CRMs to website platforms, social media tools to ad management systems, transaction management software to ISA software … you have a lot to choose from where technology is concerned.

In this week’s Walkthrough podcast, Rivers Pearce — one of Boomtown’s early employees — shares the five “must-have” tech tools that every real estate agent should be using and how to make sure the tools you use have a positive ROI.

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Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host) Have you ever been on a game show? Imagine for a moment that you and your family get accepted to be on “Family Feud” with Steve Harvey. One of the questions is this: Name something that has too many choices?

First person answers Netflix. [sound: bell ding] Yes, number one answer!

Then more answers. Baskin Robbins. [sound: bell ding]

The menu at Cheesecake Factory. [sound: bell ding]

Shopping for paint. [sound: bell ding] I mean, do we really need 147 shades of blue?

And then it’s your turn and you say, real estate technology and tools. [sound: bell dings twice]

We got a double ding after that one, but all right. I don’t know if that would really make the big board on “Family Feud.” Probably not. But I bet you’re nodding your head in agreement right now.

There are so many choices when it comes to real estate tech and so many questions too. Which tools do I really need to run and grow my business? Do they all work together? How do I figure out the ROI on these tools?

Well, our guest today knows all about those questions and the answers to each one. He says there are five tech tools that every agent must have. Do you have all five and are they really helping you the way they should? Let’s find out today.

This is “The Walkthrough.”


Hey, everyone, I’m Matt McGee. Welcome to “The Walkthrough.” On this show, you’ll learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. And we’re on a journey to find out how great real estate agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable. You can get involved in the show in three ways now. You can leave a voicemail or send me a text at 415-322-3328. You can send an email anytime to walkthrough [at] homelight.com or find me in our Facebook listener community. Just go on Facebook, do a search for HomeLight Walkthrough, and the group should come right up.

When I joined HomeLight a year ago as the editor of our Agent Resource Center, one of the first things I did was get on the phone with about 30 agents across the country to learn about you and your businesses. I think on every call, the subject of technology came up. And what I heard was consistent. There’s too much to choose from. How do I know what I need? How do I know if these tools are worth the investment?

There are actually psychological studies about this. We all think of choice as a Good Thing with capital G and capital T. But too much choice can create decision paralysis. That’s the inability to decide. You know you need to choose something, but there are so many choices, you end up choosing nothing. Too much choice can also lead to unhappiness because, well, you made your choice, but was it the right one? You start to doubt yourself and … ugh. You may have experienced one or both of those feelings last time you researched, say, CRMs for your real estate business, or maybe IDX providers or website platforms, or any tech tool for that matter.

On today’s show, we’re going to help you deal with the too many choices problem, where real estate and technology converge. My guest today is a guy named Rivers Pearce. And some of you might recognize his name. My first encounter with Rivers came a few years ago when he gave a really, really good talk at one of Tom Ferry’s conferences. Rivers was employee number 10 at BoomTown. He spent almost nine years there, working his way up the company ladder. He worked with many of the top agents and teams across the country. Today he’s the CEO and co-founder of W8LESS, a digital agency that specializes in real estate marketing and technology.

This is part one of a two-part conversation. Today, we’re going to talk about your tech stack. That’s the tools that you use to run and grow your business. So you’ll hear Rivers talk about how to audit and inventory the tools that you already have, the five tech tools that you should consider must-haves, and then how to think about ROI for these tools, especially when it’s not really obvious.

I’ll preview part two of this series when I come back at the end. But for now, let’s dive into part one with Rivers Pearce and we’ll start solving that problem of too many choices.


Matt: We surveyed hundreds of agents late last year, Rivers, and technology was the number two pain point that they told us about. Marketing was number one. The most common problem that they told us was when it comes to tech, there’s too much to choose from, and they don’t know how all the new stuff fits with what they already have. Are you surprised by any of that?

Rivers: It is not surprising that people would be overwhelmed, right, because not only you’re trying to think about what technology to use, the technology is really an adaptation or adapting to the way that we as consumers are changing. And so it’s not just, “Oh, what technology do I use?” It’s like, “I’ve gotta change my mindset, my potential business operations, the way we generate leads, I mean, like, the way we close deals, the way we show houses,” right? So there’s a lot going on that real estate professionals have to contend with these days.

Matt: If you were a real estate agent, where do you start to sort of make sure that you have the right tools and that you’re getting the most out of them?

Rivers: Yeah, I mean, so there’s two ways. I think the first way to think about it is actually, you know, you’re not thinking about technology, specifically, or certainly not thinking about a specific type or brand of technology, right? So it’s almost getting up into that first piece of, like, the general mindset of what do I need to do for my business? What are the gaps that I need to fill? Is it based on user experience? Is it the experience of my agents? Do I need to think and focus more on top of the funnel lead gen versus back office, right? So thinking about and looking at the gaps in your business, understanding where you’re spending your money, for one, you know, and we can obviously get into that as well.

But I think too many people just jump to the finished product or they see, “Oh, so and so uses this, so I guess I have to use that.” Well, that doesn’t necessarily make sense, right? Just because, you know, kind of taken at maybe out of real estate, but let’s say that everybody says, “Oh, you have to use Salesforce because that’s the, you know, kind of definitive, de facto CRM out there in the world.” Well, that might not make sense for your business and it’s not cheap, right? So, it’s kind of like when somebody sees, like, a great commercial or a great ad campaign, right, and they go, “Oh, I want that.” And they go just to try to build that, but they don’t realize that’s the end product of months and months of planning and designing and development, right? So I hate to see people just kind of jump over the necessary pieces and all of a sudden think that the technology is gonna actually solve the problem. Right? Technology is the means to an end.

Matt: Tell me about this concept that I’ve heard you speak about before about just, like, auditing what you have now, all the tools that you already have access to sort of, you know, get your house in order kind of thing.

Rivers: So the way I like to go about that is an audit, just taking a full inventory of all the technology that you have. You may not be using it, and that’s the other piece. And you probably know the term dark tech, right? If you think about it, you pull out your Amex bill or your credit card bill and you start looking at what’s hitting your card every month. Well, of course, your bigger website, CRM, maybe the marketing automation solutions that are anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars a month, of course, those are gonna stick out. But what about the things that are $19.99 a month and $5 a month, or these things here and there that … what I’ve often found is people will take inventory of everything they have, put it in a spreadsheet, and then you’re gonna go through and say, “How much am I spending on it? Is this a monthly, an annual contract, you know, the contract details? Are we actually using it? Do we know what this does? And if we are using it, what’s the adoption rate amongst my team? Right? So you’re looking not just like it’s not binary, are we or are we not? But if I’m paying for it, and we’re using it, if the adoption percentage is like 30%, is it worth keeping? Right?

So, I have found people, you know… The other piece is especially during the pandemic, I was working with a lot of clients on this, they’re like, “Oh, well, I’ve gotta get rid of my most expensive thing.” It’s like, “Yep, timeout.” Yes, that might make sense for your immediate budget. But if you turn off your CRM and your website, that’s not so good for business. Right? So maybe your open house software, maybe we’re gonna put that on pause for a few months because you’re not doing open houses, right? Those kinds of things, it’s really gotta take the inventory, assess the costs, the contracts, the adoption percentages, and then you’re gonna layer in that next step of kind of like, “All right, well, is this pertinent now? Are we gonna need it later?” You know, so thinking about that from a cost perspective and obviously, eliminating redundancies, you’re trimming the fat.

Matt: And if I’m understanding you right, you’re saying, like, actually, like, make a spreadsheet or have all this out on paper. Like, here’s what I’ve got, here’s the pros and the cons, the cost, the whole nine yards.

Rivers: Absolutely. I have a spreadsheet that I share with my clients, if you want, I can send it over to you. It’s real basic, but it’s like the tech, the cost, the adoption percentage, what does it actually do? Where do you categorize it? You know, those types of things. Because oftentimes you find that, you know, maybe somebody had a transaction coordinator that’s no longer with the team, and that person used something that they specifically liked, and when they left, nobody ever turned it off. Or there’s something hanging out there and it’s like I found many times would be like, “We didn’t even know that was being paid for and we don’t even know how to log into it because so and so doesn’t even work here anymore.” You know?

I mean, you can really save a lot of money in doing that. And I’ll say also on that if you’re on a team or in a brokerage, you know, you’re going to or, you know, just in general, I think we’ve talked about this that, you know, you’re all a member of a REALTOR association, MLS associations, those types of things — like take advantage of the things that your team leader, brokerage, MLS associations, etc, are offering you. You’re probably already paying for some of these things. So you don’t necessarily have to pay for everything yourself, but that should be taken into account as well, you know, that a lot of this might already be in your tech stack and you don’t know it.

Matt: Let me jump in here with a real quick interruption. You just heard Rivers mention a spreadsheet that he shares with clients to help them audit the tech tools that they’re already using. We’re going to make that spreadsheet available in our Facebook listener community. If you’re not part of the community, I’ll explain how to find it after today’s conversation. Speaking of which, let’s get right back to that conversation.

You just used the phrase tech stack. For listeners that may not be familiar with what that, can you give a quick a quick explanation of a tech stack?

Rivers: Tech stack, quick and dirty is all the technology that’s powering your business. So that could be front end, consumer, back-office, transaction, dialers, anything. You know, in our world, that’s your tech stack. And then there’s kind of that martech stack, right? The marketing pieces that are more specific to marketing, but yeah, that would be my definition of it.

Matt: Okay. Yep. That sounds good. This idea of the audit and getting your house in order, how often should you do that? Is that a once a year kind of thing?

Rivers: I mean, definitely annually. I think quarterly is worth, you know… It’s your business. You know, you wouldn’t… I guess I’d think about it like this. If you had team members that were not doing their job, right, or not doing what you’re being paid to do, you’d probably be on top of that more than annually. Right? So I am a big proponent nowadays that you have to treat your technology and your tech stack as a member of the team. You know? It’s critical to success.

Matt: What are… So when we talk about this tech stack, what are the must-haves for a real estate agent? If you were to make a list of things that every agent needs to have at this point, 2020 heading into 2021 in a few months, what would you put on that list?

Rivers: First and foremost, and I think this is kind of up for debate, but I think you gotta have a website, right? Now whether you wanna have MLS search, IDX, you know, squeeze pages, all that kind of stuff, we can get into that later if we need to, but you gotta have something. You know, I think back in the day, people were like, “Oh, I can just have a Facebook page or I can have a LinkedIn” or whatever. You know, you need to have control over your own brand. And that’s a standalone website with a standalone domain that no matter what, nobody can change the algorithm, nobody can, you know, sell that company to somebody else or whatever.

So website, and then I think second, first and foremost, a tie, you gotta have a CRM, you know. You cannot even remotely expect to… You can have a business, you can certainly run a business and have, like, a single agent kind of business with a spreadsheet of your contacts and maybe trying to use your phone, okay. But if you want to actually scale, and grow your business, and have that kind of, like, system that is doing work for you behind the scenes, and in the middle of the night, and those kinds of things, you have to have a CRM in place. There’s just no way you’re gonna compete with the top-performing agents and teams out there without it.

Second to that, I think you have to have some sort of marketing automation, so that in our world, I would call that email marketing, drip marketing. Now, should you be blasting spammy newsletters to everybody? Probably not. So, how well you use that is up to you.

Matt: Always the question. Yeah.

Rivers: Yeah, but if you’ve got even just a couple thousand people in your database, you know, you’re not gonna be able to manually email all these people, right? So having something that at least is getting some sort of engagement out there to them. I think having automated text messaging is also pretty standard these days. You gotta be careful with that one. It’s obviously more rigorous than the email kind of spam laws. But it is so effective.

And then I think beyond that, you’re getting into you’ve gotta have something — if you’re doing enough of, you know, kind of, not legitimate, but a high volume of transactions, you’re gonna have to have some sort of transaction management software in there. And that’s gonna be anything from a suite, say, you know, having at the very least DocuSign or some sort of paperless transaction, you know, signing e-signature platform. I don’t think people wanna sign it with their phone. Right? So you got to have something in place like that.

But also managing the process of the back end, the back office. You know, transaction management kind of is this big umbrella term for everything that happens basically when a contract comes in the door to when it’s signed. I mean, you know, ultimately, keys are handed over. It’s not just the paperless and the e-signature piece, it’s also what about the hundred, you know, point checklist for putting the yard sign in, getting the lockbox, uploading to the MLS, ordering the inspection? You know, all of those things. And I’ve seen people have these massive spreadsheets, you know, to manage those things.

So, I think there’s plenty of software out there that allows you to streamline those things so that you’ve got basically a nice cohesive system between website, which is front-end consumer. You’ve got internal CRM and marketing automation for client management and engagement, you know, the nurturing process. And then you’ve gotta have something on that back end. So those would be the three pillars.

In between there, there’s a bunch of other things based on your needs, your volume, your goals. And obviously, I think those are the three critical pieces.

And then in this day and age, I think the final piece that, in my opinion, is a must-have if you’ve got a team or a brokerage, and you’re doing some real volume, some sort of visualization software or program that allows you to see, you know, what your deal flow looks like. What does your pipeline look like? How much money do you have potentially coming in the next six months? How many…? If you’re running a team, you need to be able to see, are people making the right amount of calls? Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing? So some sort of insight into your operations.

Matt: On that last topic there, is that the one that I think I’ve heard is called…? Is it pronounced Sisu? Is that what…

Rivers: Sisu, yeah, big fan of…

Matt: Is that…? And are there…?

Rivers: …what they’re doing.

Matt: And are there others that do that as well?

Rivers: Yeah. Sisu is unique in the sense that it has a transaction management platform piece. And then just think about that real unsexy world of the things that actually pay the bills, you know, closing deals, but there’s a whole unsexy component to that. They handle that pretty well as do a lot of other providers. But they also have a component where you can visualize your team’s performance. So, you can kind of gamify things. And, you know, when you’re running a sales team, you know, they get competitive. It works, you know? But, you know, there’s other programs on the back end that whether it’s with DocuSign, or Dotloop, or BrokerNet, SkySlope, you know, those are all programs that are great programs for the back office transaction management piece as well.

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Matt: We just covered, you know, in the last four or five minutes, you know, a handful of different pieces of a tech stack that an agent could or should have. And just to speak to, you know, how wide a swath this cuts. Like, we didn’t talk about things like ad management tools. We didn’t talk about social media management tools. We didn’t talk about review management platforms, which I’m a big believer in and I think agents — and we did an episode, you know, a couple of months ago — I think agents especially if you’re, you know, relying heavily on referral business, you need to have some way to get reviews, present reviews, share reviews, that’s…

Rivers: What about a dialer? If you’re making hundreds of calls a day, what about ISA software, right, where somebody fills out a lead form and, you know, you’ve got five minutes to get in touch with them? You probably need something in place there that’s gonna send them an email, send them a text, drop them a voicemail, and then you’re gonna follow up, too. You know, those kinds of things are critical at a certain point, at a certain volume point.

Matt: I think it goes back to what you said at the very beginning about recognizing where the holes are in your business and where you need to fill. And that’s where, okay, is there a tech tool? Is there something that I can use to solve this problem that I’m having?

Rivers: Correct. And, you know, it’s like the classic real estate, like, concept, you’ve gotta create leverage for yourself, you know. And these technology tools allow you to do more than one thing at one time. They allow you to communicate with your database in the middle of the night. You know, those kinds of things are critical once you get to that point where you’re ready to scale your business to the next level.

Matt: Here’s another pain point that we have heard many times from agents, I’m sure you have heard it as well, Rivers, is that when I have all these tools, maybe I’m using 6, 8, 10 different things to run my business, how do I get them all to work together nicely?

Rivers: Yeah, that’s… I am a big fan of trying to figure that out myself and helping people do that. You know, that’s where you get into the world of really where it’s integration, right? It’s the use of APIs. And if people are not familiar with that term, but basically, an API is a program basically that allows disparate pieces of technology to talk to each other, share information, you know, kick off workflows, pass data back and forth, etc. You know, you can do that either, you know, I guess the heavy lifting route would be to build custom integrations, you know, yourself, which most people are not gonna have the resources to do. Or you can certainly use programs like Zapier or there’s real estate specific programs like Realsynch and API Nation. I believe PieSync is another one. I think HubSpot bought them.

But basically, those programs are already set up that they already have the connections in place a lot, where it’s like, “Okay, well, I want my CRM to talk to my transaction management system and they facilitate that middleware.” You know, the middle piece or a power strip, right, let’s think and, plug in, and talk, and share information. But I am also seeing that a lot of the main providers now have some basic direct integration that’s already built. So you would wanna check in with your CRM, your various providers that you use to see, well, who do you already integrate with? Because it may already be built for you. And, you know, those are… That’s just the way of the world. You know, if you don’t have an open API or at least an accessible API, I can’t imagine you’re gonna be able to scale your client base out much further.

Matt: The use of some of these tools, how complicated is it? Is it something that you’re gonna need a marketing person or a tech person to set it up so that your, you know, tool number one is talking to your CRM, which is then talking to your listing management?

Rivers: It doesn’t have to be, especially the ones that are direct integration. And I know with the middleware providers, just to get them to connect, you’re basically just putting your login information and the way you would say, connecting a bank to a credit card or something, right? That’s pretty standard issue these days. But it’s understanding that before you start hooking anything together, you’ve gotta understand why you’re doing it, what information you want to share between these things, you know, the how and the why? And then you go in and you’re setting up the things. That can be a little complicated, but you don’t need a developer, you don’t need, you know, an engineer, but you do need to understand your business and how the operational workflows actually should and could, you know, be happening.

Matt: And tell me if I’m right here, if you’re just in the market now and looking for a CRM or looking for another new tool to cover any of these other aspects of your business, I think if I remember correctly on a lot of their websites, they should have a section where they list all their integrations. Here’s all the tools that we… You know, we work with MailChimp or we work with Constant Contact. And so a lot of that information should be readily available on their websites.

Rivers: Absolutely.

Matt: Okay. I wanna ask you about ROI and return on investment because I feel like with some of the tools that an agent uses, it’s probably pretty easy to figure out the ROI, right? Like, there’s a direct correlation between, here’s the tool I’m using, and it’s either generating leads or it’s helping me convert leads. And so you can say, “Yeah, that’s worth my money.” But then I feel like with some of the other tools, it might be a little harder to connect. “I’m spending X amount per month on this, and I’m not sure, you know, if it’s actually helping me, you know, grow my business.” What do you…? Can you speak to that challenge there?

Rivers: Yes. It’s much like, you know, you’re spending money on advertising, it’s doing something or it’s not, right? It’s working or it’s not. Emails are actually getting responses and engagement or they’re not. The website is converting people and whatnot. Yes, those are very clear.

There’s also things that it’s just the cost of doing business. Like, I dare you to try to close 100 transactions without paperless e-signature and transaction management software, and those kind of, like… It’s just not gonna happen. So, assigning an ROI to that, maybe, maybe not, it’s just kind of like operating expense, you know?

I think where you can kind of calculate this out is to say, okay, for the things that may be a bit nebulous, you say, “All right, well, I have 24 hours in the day, and I have to sleep, and I have to eat. I wanna have some personal time. So these three hours a day that I’m spending doing this thing manually, if I can spend less money or leverage technology to accomplish that task, then the ROI can be factored in to say, “What else could I be doing with those three hours?” And if it’s dollar productive, as they say a lot in this space, then you should absolutely be hiring someone or putting technology in place to do that. And that time you’re buying back for yourself may be time for you to actually just enjoy your life a little bit too.

So, you know, maybe that doesn’t answer the question 100% well, but there are certain things where, at a certain point, you’ve gotta say, “My business is growing to the point where I’ve got to have operational expenses that are just cost of doing business or can I make more money by hiring somebody to do these things for me?” And it’s like, I hire somebody to mow my lawn. That’s an hour-and-a-half, two hours of my weekend that I’d rather spend with my kids.

Matt: Right.

Rivers: So that’s ROI positive for me.

(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host) Thanks so much, Rivers. Great, great start to our two-part series on Real Estate Tech.

You might be thinking right now, “Matt, you had BoomTown’s 10th employee on “The Walkthrough,” and you didn’t talk to him more about CRMs?” Have no fear. I did. And that’s what we’ll cover in part two next week. I’ll give you a preview of that in just a moment. First, let’s do some takeaways from this episode. Here is what stood out to me.

Takeaway number one, get your tech stack in order. Audit the tools that you already have. Are you using them enough to justify the cost? Rivers offered a spreadsheet to help you with that audit, and we’ll put that spreadsheet in our Facebook listener community.

Takeaway number two, do that audit on a regular basis. Rivers suggested quarterly or maybe bi-annually. Just like you keep track of your own performance or your team’s performance, you have to do the same with your tech stack. “Treat your technology as a member of the team,” that’s the quote Rivers gave.

Takeaway number three, Rivers says there are five must-have tech tools. Number one and number two, he kind of said these two are tied at the top of the list — a website and a CRM. Those are the top two. You gotta have both of them. Must-have number three, some kind of marketing automation system that will manage your email and your drip campaigns, maybe your text campaigns as well. Must-have number four, transaction management software to help run your business. Must-have number five, this one’s especially for teams, some kind of pipeline visualization to help you track all your agents and their leads.

Takeaway number four, focus on ROI. Make sure the tools that you use are helping you grow or run your business. Now, that’ll be easier with some tools than with others. Rivers said you have to look at some of this stuff just as the cost of doing business. And he also mentioned that some tools may not exactly grow your bottom line, but they might free up your time. And there’s ROI in that as well.

All right, coming up in part 2, we’re going to go deep into one of the technologies that we just touched on today, your CRM. You’re going to hear Rivers talk about the different levels of features and sophistication that are available in different CRMs. And I asked him too, to talk about whether the CRMs that some of the big franchises now offer are powerful enough to run your business. Let’s hear what he says about that.

Rivers: I will say that I do know that if you’re one of the big top-performing teams and you’re doing…you know, if you’ve got multiple offices, 50, 100 agents, you’re doing, you know, 500 transactions a year, I don’t know about that. I don’t know anybody at that level that’s really leaning in and, like, just getting rid of all their own tech stack and going with a franchise solution. I don’t know if it’s built for that group. As a single agent, as a starting out, you know, small team, absolutely it can certainly be plenty of horsepower for you.

Matt: So that’s a quick preview of part 2 with Rivers Pearce. We’re diving deep in the CRM, and that will be next week’s show.

Okay. If you have questions for Rivers about today’s show or questions or feedback for me, you can text or leave a voicemail anytime, it’s 415-322-3328. You can also send an email to walkthrough [at] homelight.com or bonus, you can find both Rivers and myself in our Facebook listener community. Just do a search for HomeLight Walkthrough, and the group should come right up.

That’s all for this week. Thanks again to Rivers Pearce for joining me. Thank you for listening. My name is Matt McGee, and you’ve been listening to “The Walkthrough. Why do we do a weekly podcast? Because at HomeLight we believe in real estate agents. We’re on a journey to find out how great real estate agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.

Go out and safely sell some homes, and we’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye, everyone.

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