Connect the Speakers: Jonathan Boatwright on building an in-house tech strategy

Before he started in real estate, Jonathan Boatwright at Austin Realty was in the software industry — he worked for Microsoft for almost a decade on the technical and sales side. “So I came into the real estate industry with a technology perspective,” Boatwright explained.

That makes him a perfect addition to a panel discussion about how to execute a winning in-house tech strategy, taking place at Inman Connect New York, January 29 through February 1 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square. We asked Boatwright about how he does it and what other brokers can learn from his experience.

Tell us a little more about your session. How will it address how the industry can embrace the shifting market?

One of the things that’s led us down this path has been the consolidation of real estate technology providers over the past few years as they’re getting acquired by Keller Williams, ReMax and so on. These tech companies are basically telling all the independent brokers who worked with them that they have to go find another solution, and then that solution gets acquired. So you’ve got a no-win situation here where your competitors, the big national brands — whether it be the portals or whomever — are buying these tech companies, and you’re going to have to keep jumping from platform to platform to stay relevant and have something to offer your agents.

So from my point of view it’s time to figure that out, whether it’s teaming up with friendly competitors in other markets to build something or hiring the resources to do it yourself. But I don’t think you can rely much longer on licensing a software product from a vendor and rolling it out; you still need to be able to customize it and tailor it and make it your own. We’ve been going down that path for a while, and it’s not easy or cheap and not everybody can do it, and that’s really the challenge for the audience.

There’s also something to be said for looking at platforms that are not specifically tied to the real estate industry but can be customized for real estate, like Salesforce for a CRM and DocuSign.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities to focus on in the real estate industry right now?

It’s so crazy right now with Compass coming in and buying all the top agents, Redfin taking all the chief listings and iBuyers taking their own portion of the market. I really think what brokers need to focus on is providing value to agents in a way they’ve never provided value before, whether that’s marketing agents and listings, working on social media, providing a great CRM … and they need to not only provide the tools but train the agents on those tools because if agents are not using them they don’t see value of them, and that’s a big part that brokers overlook. Nowadays you have to have the training, too, and partner with your agents and help them grow their business, because that’s what Compass is promising to do when they sit down for an interview with an agent.

To stay competitive, agents, brokers and companies need to execute quickly. What do you feel are key areas where quick execution can vastly improve the customer experience?

I think one that is low-hanging fruit that we’re working on and everybody should be working is improving the listing experience for your sellers, especially as we’re moving into a place where they’ll be sitting longer. Being able to give them real-time insight into activity on portals, showings, the marketing that’s been done for the listing, price reductions, how many people have saved it as a favorite — all those details around the stress that sellers have around their listing selling, rather than having to call them every Monday morning to have a conversation. Not that you shouldn’t have a conversation, but the information should be out there and not hidden behind the Realtor. We need to solve that.

It gets tricky with the regulation and financing, and the mortgage and title laws are so different from state to state — that’s what’s holding us back from streamlining that transaction is just a lot of bureaucratic red tape, and I don’t know who solves that problem. It doesn’t feel like we’re making significant headway on it to me. Companies like Redfin that are bringing in their own mortgage are able to control that process more and speed it up, but I don’t know how much they’re able to speed it up because there are still a lot of regulations they have to deal with, and I think that’s why the iBuyers are getting traction; people just want to be done. Once you get to that point where you’re ready to move, a lot of people will take a few thousand dollars less and let it go.

What are your hopes for the next 12 months, and what will you be working on?

We’re going to be doing a lot of work on our web technology and mobile app, and deeper integration of all the different systems — deeper integration of the information from all these different platforms into our CRM so our agents have that 360-degree view of their customers in the transactions and all the different information from the different data sources we have today.

Discover the opportunities in a changing market at Inman Connect New York, January 29 – February 1. Jumpstart 2019 with tactical takeaways, unlimited networking and thought-provoking speakers. Learn more.

Thinking about bringing your team? You may qualify for special group perks! Contact us to learn more.

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