Agent tools - agent platforms and brokerage technology

Integrated agent platforms offer a single software service that covers multiple stages of agent workflows. Many agents prefer this to using multiple software providers for CRM, CMAs, search, and other needs. Some brokerages build their own agent platforms.

For agents, these platforms solve the following problems.

  • I want to use one software platform to manage all my real estate business.
  • I want my technology systems and data to work together seamlessly.

For brokerages, agent platforms solve three immediate problems.

  • I want to offer a single technology platform to all my agents.
  • I want to simplify onboarding and education related to technology for agents.
  • I want to use technology as a unique reason to join my brokerage or charge more through commission splits.
View of HomeSmart's internal platform, RealSmart
HomeSmart offers an internal platform called RealSmart. Services include transactions, websites, and marketing. Source: HomeSmart

Agent platforms

There are over a dozen major agent platforms. Most tend to be stronger for certain product functions and weaker in others. This is often because they evolved from a more-limited use case. For example, some agent platforms started as CRMs. But they added lead management features after enough customers requested that function. Others start as transaction management software or website builders. Often, agents or brokerages select platforms based on a this core strength. Some of the more popular platforms are BoomTown!, Chime, inside real estate, Market Leader, and MoxiWorks.

Different views of Real Geeks technology for agents
Real Geeks offers IDX websites, a CRM, valuation tools, and many other features. But the messaging, specialization, and appeal of the product is largely in website creation. Source: Real Geeks.

Advantages and disadvantages of agent platforms

Not all brokerages and agents offer or use an agent platform. Agents or brokerages have to choose an agent platform over individual software services or simply pay for both. There are a number of advantages to using an agent platform over standalone software:

  • Data integration: agent platforms often maintain data from one stage to another. An agent can create a listing, transfer that data to their website, and then share that site link with a client in their CRM. When using different tools, these functions might not be able to connect.
  • Competitive pricing and simple billing across all tools: with every tool built into one platform, agents pay one fee for all their technology. This can be reassuring to agents new to adopting technology. When buying standalone software, are often concerned they will have to constantly pay for new tools.
  • Ease of training and onboarding: with one tech tool, there is a single tutorial and process to go through. Brokerages and agent teams can easily onboard their agents onto one software platform. If a team uses three software providers, there are three separate processes. It also means that agents log into the software earlier. For example, an agent may not log into transaction management software until several months into the job when they close their first deal.
  • White labeling: many agent platforms allow brokerages to add their logo and branding. This can make the entire system feel custom to the brokerage. This allows brokerages to showcase their value more consistently. For brokerages without offices, this can be helpful branding in place of an office with signage.

There are of course a number of disadvantages as well:

  • Lack of specialization: agent platforms can feel okay at everything and great at nothing. If an agent wants a CRM and website without anything else, an agent platform may fall short. That agent may be better served using two best-in-class tools for those functions.
  • Expensive: an agent platform may be cheaper for all tools collectively. But it is often very expensive on its own. And not all agents may value having all these tools. For example, Chime, a popular integrated platform, can be in the hundreds of dollars per month. If an agent just needs a CRM, there are plenty of solutions under $50/month.
  • Complicated: many agents are new to using technology and don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. An agent platform may be too much to learn when starting with e-signatures with DocuSign would be better..
  • Fewer third-party integrations: Agent platforms are usually designed to be closed platforms. This is a core advantage above because everything in the system works together. But it also means that it’s often hard to use a tool that isn’t owned by the same company. Agents who particularly love software from one service may not use an agent platform if it can't integrate.
Chime's lead-to-closing process illustrated
Integrated platforms like Chime can help simplify onboarding and tutorials. A single platform has a cohesive user workflow and learning process. This can be easier than learning many tools simultaneously. Source: Chime.

Brokerage technology

Brokerages take several different approaches to providing technology to agents. Many use agent platforms, but others build or acquire software.

Partnering with agent platforms and offering third-party software

Most brokerages don't build their own technology. Often, they partner with proven agent platforms. Most likely, these partnerships include a discount to the agent platform's standard rate. This is a common approach that many cloud brokerages take. Because cloud brokerages lack offices, technology is essential to serving agents remotely. For example, eXp Realty works with kvCORE to provide an end-to-end platform to agents. Real, another cloud brokerage, provides agents with Chime.

Other brokerages provide access to preferred software to replace or supplement supplied software. Keller Williams takes this approach. They offer their own internal tool set via KW Command. But they also have an internal software marketplace. For example, agents can access discounted subscriptions to partner providers such as Market Leader. Side, a tech-enabled brokerage, builds in-house technology. But it partners with MoxiWorks for CMAs. They likely view MoxiWorks as a strong product that would be too expensive to replicate.

Overview of technology offered by Real Brokerage
Real offers agents a combined package of Chime, CloudCMA, and dotLoop. Source: Real.

Building and acquiring technology

Some brokerages choose to build or acquire their own integrated platforms. This decision is a large resource commitment. Zillow employs over 1,000 engineers. Redfin has over 200 on staff. Engineers cost over $150,000 per year in the US. That means Redfin is spending over $30 million a year on personnel to support its technology. For Zillow, it’s over $100M. For a brokerage to even begin competing with these companies on technology undertaking.

But building custom software has been an essential part of the tech-enabled brokerage business model. Often, this is in the interest of agent efficiency. For example, Redfin has built internal software that links their data across each stage of the customer journey. The helps full-time employee Redfin agents serve more customers than they could using traditional agent software focused on independent contractor use cases.

Redfin's internal CMA software output
Redfin has built its own internal tools to generate CMAs. This helps their agents integrate data from the Redfin platform. It also makes generating CMAs faster and more differentiated. Source: Redfin.

Brokerages also build their own technology to reduce service costs or generate greater fees from independent contractor agents. A good example is Side real estate, a high-touch modern brokerage. They provide workflow technology that is differentiated from competing offerings. It allows their agent teams to communicate better with support teams. This can appeal to agents who want their brokerage to provide differentiated tech. For Side, this likely lowers the cost of supporting and training agents. Similar approaches provide the following advantages:

  • Reduce agent acquisition costs and turnover: brokerages need to constantly attract new agents. Providing exclusive and exciting software is a great way to bring in agents. Similarly, agents can become very attached to the software. They’ll be less likely to leave knowing other brokerage don't have it.
  • Increase productivity per agent: the more revenue that agents generate, the more revenue the brokerage brings in. Software that can help agents handle more deals is a win. Brokerages must assess if the payoff to build internally is worth it relative to paying for a less productive, publicly available tool.
  • Simplify onboarding and ongoing support/education: building software in-house can customize features towards a brokerage’s training and systems. This means that every agent can use the same processes and communications. Because agents are usually independent contractors, brokerages can’t force agents to follow processes. But with great software, agents are more likely to go along with preferred processes. As a result, the brokerage can focus on providing uniform education on how to use the platform. In this way, software is used to share training and processes going forward.
  • Reduce external software costs and increase agent fees: building software can cost tens of millions of dollars. But they may save a large brokerage more than that investment cost. Using third party tools can get expensive with a large number of users. And for brokerages generating over $100 million in revenue, maintaining a tech team may not be a huge expense. Brokerages can then build this cost into technology fees or commission splits over time.

Brokerages also build technology to drive consumer traffic. Building a strong consumer experience and brand is essential to competing with Zillow and other real estate portals. While an agent can't compete with a portal, their brokerage can. But that means the brokerage must get their agents to contribute unique data and engaging content to the brokerage platform. Otherwise, Zillow is always the preferable consumer experience. By building technology internally, a brokerage can try to capture and display listings and content from their agents. Much of this is trying to restore the power brokerages used to have. The brand of the brokerage used to matter a lot due to the listings it represented. Real estate portals largely eliminated this. By building an agent platform, a brokerage can make listings a part of their experience. This could mean posting listings on their website before Zillow. Or it might mean having custom data other portals don't offer. The goal for the brokerage is to help create a reason to visit their site in addition to Zillow's. And if a client believes that a brokerage has a unique listing advantage, they may care less about the agent and more about the brokerage. This helps attract agents who want better leads and ensures clients don't stop working with the brokerage if their agent leaves.

Finally, monetizing ancillary services becomes more effective with internal tools. There are restrictions on kickbacks for mortgage and other services. But brokerages may offer these services to generate more revenue from each client. Technology can lower the friction of using these ancillary services without violating laws in the area. This is usually accomplished by making a partner or attached service more visible to the client. These services are also more clearly built into agent's communications software, so they can more-easily pitch these offerings. The goal of these tools is to increase the attach rate of ancillary services. Third-party tools rarely support this behavior because most agents don't have this need.

Keller Williams consumer portal listing page with mortgage and insurance offerings
By building out its own consumer portal, Keller Williams is able to both capture branded traffic on its listings and monetize its mortgage and insurance offerings. Source: Keller Williams.

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