Technology, Tech Stacks, and Real Estate - The Basics
Technology has always been a strong partner to agents and professionals in real estate, but the industry as a whole tends to be slow to the punch when it comes to adopting change. And that’s not just talking about a hesitance to implement untested solutions, but also a trend of holding onto aging platforms. As soon as software stops being a support to your business and becomes a headache to be wrangled you should start seriously thinking about doing a tech stack audit, but what does that mean?
When we say ‘tech stack audit’ we’re talking about an evaluation of the software solutions, tools, apps, and platforms utilised by an agency or franchise group to carry out their business operations. That includes day-to-day support and customer relationship management software, tools to monitor performance metrics, internal and client communications, and marketing functions.
PropTech Group’s CRO Bill Nikolouzakis advises that technology is the means to the end, and not the end itself.
"Agents should look to building a tech stack that is bespoke to their business and reduces the amount of time spent on mundane tasks, freeing them up to do what’s really important: helping clients."
Good tech should be the foundation of a modern agency. The right solutions will free up time across the board, from agents and administrative staff all the way up to owners and principles. Take customer relationship management (CRM) software as an example: if a businesses CRM is a bad fit because it lacks key functionality, or isn’t appropriate to the size and needs of the business, doesn’t allow for easy access to data or interpretation of performance metrics for reporting then it stops being support and becomes a hurdle to overcome.
Comfort with technology will naturally vary across a business so a single user struggle may not be the make or break in deciding if a piece of tech is good or bad, but if frustration is widespread then it’s past time to take a good look at what you’re getting for your money.
Bill Nikolouzakis believes that you should select the technology that is most suited to the requirements of the people in your business.
"If you have a small team that all perform multiple tasks, then starting with a CRM system like Eagle Software would be an example of a good fit. If you’re a larger business that already has extensive processes and systems in place, then a more customisable solution like VaultRE could be the better option to support you."
If the general sentiment is that the software creates more issues than it solves, that’s a good sign that you need to evaluate what you’re really getting out of it. Software needs to earn it’s place in your tech stack; otherwise you end up with a bloated mess that wastes time, money, and the energy of your people. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to technology in real estate, even within a franchise group individual agencies will have specific needs - and as an industry there are unique goals, purposes and challenges that IT infrastructure must address.
Defining what your challenges are, and what kind of software you need to address them, is a good first step to dip your toes in the water of performing a tech stack. Are they being met efficiently, are you having to use a patchwork of so-so software to cover all your bases, do your people like the software you’re using?
That last point is more important than you might think; users who don’t like the software won’t be motivated to put in the effort to learn the ins and outs of it, or may use it improperly for the sake of speeding up the process and spending as little time working with it as possible.
Doing a proper tech stack audit is a big investment, and it can be a daunting task.
It takes time and resources, and given the heat and speed of the current Australian property market it’s understandable to be unmotivated to shift your focus inward and put in the hard yards. But that’s also why now is the right, and crucial, time to do it. The industry is booming and there’s no sign of it slowing down soon, and putting the time in now will pay you back with interest in the future. Reviewing your tech will save time across the board for agents, property managers, administrators, all the way up to principles and owners. It’ll save you money by consolidating your software and sorting the wheat from the chaff, and help you maintain a single source of truth for all of your operational data so you can make confident, informed decisions.
As a business changes it’s software should too. Solutions that used to be cornerstones will be outgrown, and functional overlap from adding in tech piecemeal rather than planning out a stack all work together in creating an ecosystem that can drain resources rather than streamline operations.
PropTech Group has a strong ethos of integration and user-friendliness, as Bill Nikolouzakis says:
"Building a deeply integrated solution, one where an agent can run their entire real estate practice from one place, is absolutely essential. If you have multiple software solutions with multiple data entry points and logins agents just won’t use them."
How Do I Get Started?
So you want to audit your technology, but where to begin? It’s an intimidating process to start, particularly for older businesses that have had more time to accumulate software and may be wary of bringing in unfamiliar tech. The best place to start is by creating a comprehensive list of every piece of software that your business uses, or is subscribed to.
And that’s not hyperbole, committing to the audit means going into exhaustive detail on every front of your infrastructure. Talk to your team in every department; what do the agents use, what do the property managers use, what do your administrators use - what do they enjoy using, what do they dislike? There’s going to be overlap, but you don’t want anything to slip through the cracks.
Make sure that you look through your invoices with a fine-toothed comb and capture all of the subscription-based software so nothing gets overlooked, and tally up the expenses. That number will come in handy later when you’re making choices about implementing new software: having access to it and a firm understanding of where the money goes and why you’re spending it (whether the cost is outweighed by the time it saves, or if it generates enough new leads to have a good return on investment, if the user experience or support experience is positive enough that your people are raving about it) will help inform what you replace, what you keep, and what you discard.
Once you’ve created your list and have a surface-level understanding of what your team likes and dislikes it’s on to evaluating each piece of software. This is going to take time, and it will be well worth the effort. Asking yourself, and your team, the following questions for each piece of software or technology tool you use will give you a good idea of what you need and what you don’t right off the bat.
- How, where, and why is it used in your business processes?
- You can further categorise the function of each piece of software under necessity, quality of life, and convenience - evaluate the cost / benefit of software pieces that fall under quality of life and convenience
- It is intuitive and accessible, or do you have trouble using it effectively?
- Do your people avoid using it or try to minimise the time they spend with it?
- Why? Is it a lack of training, poor user experience design, or do they have to use the software in unintended ways to force it to answer a challenge?
- How ingrained is it in your daily operations, what would happen if you lost access to it? What would the impact be on your business?
- Is it used on a day-to-day or sporadic basis? If it’s used sporadically, does its value justify the cost?
- Are there any gaps in the stack that need to be filled?
So now you’ve got an exhaustive list of all of your software, what it costs, the office sentiment towards them, and visibility onto the areas of strength and weakness in your tech stack. Where do you go with this information? Property technology is a deep pool to dive into without guidance, but all of that effort has put you in a good position to bring in an expert to take you through the next phase with confidence.
Bill Nikolouzakis believes strongly in the importance of solutions that empower each individual client according to their needs, saying:
"At PropTech Group we’ve thought this through deeply, and decided to structure our business by having a team of advisors whose only goal is to help our clients decide on the tech solution that’s best for them. Whether it’s one, two, or all of products depending on their requirements, their goals, and the solutions they already have in place."
Making Informed Choices
Identifying the obvious points of improvement is a task you can do on your own, and getting that holistic view of your tech stack will help you in making informed decisions and advocating for what you want and what you need. But completing the audit and shaking up the stack will be a lot easier if you have some expert advice on hand.
It can be easy to lose the forest the forest for the trees, so bringing in a third party with experience in IT and real estate solutions will be worthwhile to help you finalise what programs are necessary, what better options exists, and if you have multiple pieces of software that can be consolidated by switching to a different solution.
Given the current explosion of innovation in the property technology sector agencies are spoiled for choice when it comes to options to add in to their business, so dedicating some time to doing a sweep of demonstrations and consultations with prospective software representatives will give you a better handle on what offerings are part of the new standard, what software is the best fit in providing you with value aligned to the needs and challenges you’ve identified throughout this process, and what price points are to be expected.
So you’re doing some demonstrations or consultations, how can you make the most of the conversation? Here’s some good starting topics to discuss with a consistent or representative of a software solution that you’re thinking of implementing:
- What are your business processes and what core operations are handled by your tech stack currently?
- Of those core supports, are there any that stand out as not performing as promised or have any become obsolete through the implementation of new solutions for other challenges?
- What applications or software are used on a daily basis by your team?
- Do they fulfil the need they were designed to meet? What are the other options on the market that could do it better?
- What is the impact of each support software on the business?
- Categorise the efficiency and effectiveness on an employee and a client metric.
You should also be referring back to the lists you’ve made of all your software, the price, the value, and the use. Knowing what you need, what you want, what you’re willing to compromise on, and what you’re willing to pay more for proportionally is going to guide the final phase of your audit: implementation.
As times and needs change your tech stack should be agile enough to evolve with you, and a big part of that is going to be finding solutions that aren’t stagnant. Jumping between solutions frequently will lead to burnout and a lack of motivation for you and your team to put in the time to become experts in the software, so the level of support and development practices of a prospective tech provider should be taken into consideration when moving into testing and implementation.
Do they push out updates quickly, do they have accessible support? Do they have a stable client base? Do they have integrations with other platforms and software so you can minimise the number of portals your team needs to access? All important, and all best discussed with experts.
Looking to the future
Auditing your tech stack isn’t something that can be blitzed through overnight, and you shouldn’t try to. It’s an investment, and it might be a slow burn. But once you’ve done the hard work on the first run through it’ll make subsequent tech health-checks a natural part of your operations. And you should keep a finger on the pulse of your tech stack. The knowledge that a deep-dive gives you will provide a transparent view on the role that technology plays in the day-to-day and long term processes in your business, so in the future your audits won’t be an involved process but reactive and agile.
Identify, evaluate, bring in outside expertise. A final word from Bill Nikolouzakis:
"the best way to go about the final phase of choosing solutions and moving on to implementation is getting that expertise and advice on what’s current best practice in the industry. Agents often don’t know about all of the solutions in the market or their associated costs, and building the best and most affordable tech stack can be a massive competitive advantage."
When you partner with PropTech Group, you’ll have our industry-leading products on your side to help your business grow. Register for a chat or demonstration here, we would love to help!