Nearly everyone uses some form of transaction management software. It’s table stakes these days in real estate. Most consumers, agents, and brokers alike expect paperwork and transactions to be handled digitally. But what does that really mean? For some, “digital” means using a service to handle e-signatures. For others, it’s a comprehensive service that includes client communication.
It’s less about “Should I use a transaction management?” and more about “Which one?” or “How should I use it?” However you slice it, transaction management is a hot topic these days.
- The big portals are snapping up smaller transaction management platforms: Move just bought Reesio, and Zillow bought Dotloop (both purchases are causing agents to ask questions about whether confidential transaction data is about to become part of a media play)
- DocuSign, which got its start in the real estate industry and counts NAR as an initial investor, is using Cartavi (which it acquired in 2013) as the engine to offer full-service transaction management in other industries—and even coined a term for it: digital transaction management
- Outside of the real estate industry, Aragon Research predicted that transaction management would become a business imperative for 70% of large companies by 2016 and that by 2020 the category would catapult from $500-700 million to $30 billion in revenue.
Obviously, transaction management is big business, within and without the real estate industry. But how are agents and brokers really using it? Are they truly following best practices to boost revenue, keep files in line, make agents happy, and smooth their operations?
All of this has piqued our interest, so much so that we did our own survey. We wanted to dig into if, what, and how people are using transaction management systems. We figured you might want to know: Are people happy with their results? What issues are they having? Is there an impact on the brokerage brand or culture? How does it all tie in their goals for growth and the growing pressure to be compliant?
The Stats: Say it ain’t so!
- 65 percent of agents are frustrated by paperwork and cumbersome systems
- 68 percent of agents predict transactions will become entirely mobile (but only 61 percent of their brokerages provide mobile transaction management)
- 69 percent of brokers fear there will be privacy issues concerning sensitive data
- 70 percent of brokers (and 64 percent of agents) wish they had a more streamlined transaction workflow
- 83 percent of brokers see technology training as a major issue
- 84 percent of brokers and agents predict transactions will only become more regulated and complex in the future
- 86 percent of brokers and agents see agent adoption as a major hurdle to digital transaction management
The Stats: Say it again!
- 76 percent of brokers said their #1 factor in selecting a digital system is “the ability to manage the entire transaction”
- 81 percent of agents claim greater efficiency is a top benefit of digital transaction management
- 82 percent of brokers and agents value digital transaction management because it reduces their liability
- 86 percent of brokers understand that digital transaction management can reduce liability
- 87 percent of brokers and agents see digital transaction management as a competitive advantage
- 91 percent of brokers and agents say digital transaction management equals happy agents
- 92 percent of brokers and agents say digital transaction management = happy clients
- 84 percent of brokers worry about agents being reluctant to adopt a digital transaction system
- 92 percent of agents worry that clients and other agents will not like using a digital transaction system despite the known benefits
- 28 percent of brokers don’t use any digital transaction management system
- 33 percent of agents pay for their digital transaction management tools themselves—sometimes in addition to a transaction management system their brokerage provides
- 6 percent of agents don’t use their digital transaction tools even though their brokerage offers one for free—meaning they may be using their own (or none at all)
What does it all mean?
You know, the funny thing about questions is that they often lead to more questions. The biggest question for me, after comparing agents and brokers’ fears with what they think a transaction management platform can deliver, is…
Why do you want a digital transaction management system?
Our survey says that approximately seven in 10 agents and brokers use or plan to use some form of a digital system to manage their transactions. But there’s still a lot of confusion as to why and how they should be used. And the answer to that underlies a deep, complex, and very important issue. Are you expecting too much of your system and your agents? Or are you expecting too little? First, let’s step back a moment.
What are the pain points?
The top transaction pain points identified by brokers and agents who took our survey were:
- The piles of paperwork
- The headache of organizing all the players involved in a transaction
- The lack of collaboration between parties
Here’s what interesting. Given the pain points above, it’s a bit odd that brokers and agents didn’t cite new or better technology as a need to grow their business. Instead, brokers and agents claimed their top hurdles to growth were:
- Brokers ranked “poor technology” eighth behind:
- Recruiting difficulties
- Lack of production from agents
- Local competition
- Agents ranked “poor technology” fourth after:
- A need for better marketing
- Local competition
- A lack of higher-value listings
I don’t know about you, but all of this makes me scratch my head. Because I happen to know that the features of most leading transaction management systems aim to alleviate all of those pain points and most of those hurdles to growth. It’s hard to say exactly what brokers meant by non-productive agents, but improved efficiency and the ability to handle more transactions are benefits of transaction management. Also, many brokers firmly believe their transaction system offers a competitive advantage and is a factor in recruiting new agents.
So I wonder…
Why aren’t brokerages connecting the dots between their needs and their transaction management solution?
I have some thoughts on this one.
- It’s a confusing term. Transaction management as concept means different things to different people and the solutions out there are not completely identical. Many brokers and agents are cobbling together a variety of applications, because they don’t yet feel they’ve found one solution that truly fills all their needs. This comment by broker Kendyl Young is good example of this very prevalent mindset.
- The products are complex. While online transaction management and signatures aren’t new, platforms and products have become robust, multifaceted tools that help manage most of the transaction process. Consequently, robust systems are difficult to explain. Brokers and agents are either not aware that their transaction management system is an end-to-end solution, not sure how to fully utilize all the features, or, like Kendyl Young above, not really feeling the end-to-end value just yet. It’s a concern to transaction management companies, and they’re still struggling to effectively educate their market.
- It takes some elbow grease. Robust transaction systems take some care, some customization, and a decent amount of training to get the full value. Easier said than done.
- Before any of that can happen, implementing a digital transaction tool takes careful planning. It requires thoughtful integration with your brand and culture. And you should know how you plan to measure the success of your system.
- All of that needs to inform your training so that agents and staff will understand the value and commit to applying the new practice every day on every transaction.
Why are some not using a digital transaction solution at all?
Our survey showed that 28 percent of brokers aren’t using a digital transaction system. That’s significant chunk of the industry. At first, this is another head scratcher, but there are several reasons I think this is happening.
- The average agent doesn’t sell that many homes. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, the average agent has 11 transactions per year and earns an average income of $45,800. So, in the smaller markets, brokers may not see complex digital transaction systems as a worthwhile investment. The more competitive and faster moving the market, the more necessary those systems become.
- Substitute solutions. The percentage may actually be higher than 28 percent, because some people count Google Docs, Gmail, Dropbox, and Evernote as systems for managing digital transactions. Really, these are cloud-based tools that can be used for storage and communication, which is really not the same as a program specifically designed to store, share, secure, follow templates and checklists, maintain compliance, and offer insights.
- Invisible systems. Many agents don’t even know they’re using a full-service transaction management system. Some brokerages try to do so much for their agents on the back end that agents aren’t aware of how their transaction platform works—or that their brokerage even uses one.
All of this exploration leads me to a more important question…
Are you using your transaction management system correctly?
Just to be clear, many brokerages and agents are using their transaction management systems fairly well and see benefits. Some are even quite inventive and use them to manage other internal processes such as on-boarding new agents. Others think they use their transaction management platform well—but are they?
The most likely reason that many struggle or are still resistant is that a lot of people don’t really understand the tool they have. Brokers and agents seem to consider transaction management systems as platforms primarily for e-signing and storage.
Similar feature sets, different implementation
Transaction management systems all make a similar promise: They offer a tool that gives agents and brokers the ability to be fully mobile and paperless; to simplify, organize, manage, and track the entire transaction; and to consistently deliver customers a better experience. These are the basic feature/benefit sets of the leading platforms:
- Communication and collaboration tools
- Cloud tools for storing, organizing, managing, and sharing files
- Varying levels of integration with forms solutions and popular cloud applications
- The ability to manage permissions, access, and transaction roles
- The ability to customize workflow and compliance checklists
- White-label customization
- Visibility into the company’s pipeline
- Varying levels of security and support
- They’re all mobile-friendly
Yet many brokers and agents cherry pick key features and don’t actually use transaction management to create a completely organized customer experience. For many, transaction management is merely a back-office tool that the home buyer, home seller, or agent never sees, because agents aren’t allowed to touch the platform for fear of “messing up” a file.
If you scan social media real estate groups like Agent Support, Raise the Bar, Lab Coat Agents, What Should I Spend My Money On, and The Real Estate Agent Group, it’s clear that some agents are using multiple transaction management platforms. Which is kind of like having three Swiss Army knives—using one for cutting, one for opening wine, and another as scissors.
Multiple platform usage is a symptom of many factors:
- No real buy-in. Brokerages aren’t setting clear expectations for usage and aren’t seeing full adoption from their agents. Social media is rife with comments from big brand brokerages like Keller Williams, for example, where agents admit they have free access to Dotloop but actually preferred DocuSign, so they use Dotloop for one required step in the process and then pay for and use DocuSign for the rest. But it’s not just Dotloop vs DocuSign: it’s all the competing systems. In fact, our survey revealed that 67 percent of agents fear that not everyone will use a provided transaction management system and 84 percent of brokers fear that agents won’t adopt the technology.
- Lack of familiarity. Agents want to use what they know. If a broker throws a different system at them without proper education and training, there’s probably going to be an adoption issue.
- Not seeing the bigger picture. Brokers and agents may not understand that a companywide process has many tangential benefits which can affect brand, customer experience, pipeline and allocation of resources, compliance, and internal collaboration.
- No co-agent protocol. In the field, agents on either side of the deal often use different platforms and there seems to be no right-of-way laws or established ethics about what to do in these situations. This is another serious issue. One that leads to a hodgepodge of practices, none of which are not terribly efficient, collaborative, or transparent—three prized benefits of transaction management.
Goals and expectations
There’s a reason that brokers are wary of installing new systems. They’re trying make things smoother in the back office while trying not to impede their hard-built team of agents from growing their business and also ensure the customer has a good experience.
Selecting and implementing a transaction system is a big deal and has many implications beyond cost. It affects how people interact with the brand, has compliance implications, impacts culture, and requires significant energy to fine tune.
I’ve spoken with many brokers on this subject, and this where they’ll all tell you about the importance of establishing goals and expectations. Judging by the broker and agent grumblings in our survey, it seems obvious that many brokers and agents are not on the same page and that goals and expectations need to be more carefully established.
If the benefits of a transaction management tools are going to be achieved, everyone involved needs to know what value the system will bring them. And the company’s commitment to using the system needs to be a priority. Only then will the benefits become clear and, just as importantly, the areas for improvement be revealed.
Hand holding—the unforeseen brand threat
This is a problem born of the best intentions. Naturally, many brokers consider their agents to be their clients and want to do everything they can to accommodate them. Other brokerages consider their agents to be a sales team and want to maximize their time by allowing them to focus on gaining listings and making transactions.
Both of these kinds of brokerages tend to take transaction management off the agents’ plates and do all the entering, uploading, managing, and monitoring of compliance checklists for them. It’s a fantastic service for the agent. Or is it?
Unfortunately, no matter how you define it, this practice equates to handholding. And while it seems like a nice gesture and while it may make it easier to at first implement a new system, handholding has its drawbacks. Agents are not incentivized to learn and understand the powerful tool. They’re less likely to utilize or appreciate all its helpful features. And that is a threat to the broker’s brand.
Consider this: While the broker may feel that they’ve got full adoption and maximized value, the truth is that the agent likely communicates with clients and players in the same divergent ways they always have. They’re tracking and sharing documents via email. Their clients only see the tip of the spear: e-signatures. And agents become overly dependent on the brokerage back office, which adds to overhead and can slow transactions down.
Believe me, this effect is more real than you think and the downside is usually lost on the brokerage. I’ve spoken to a lot of buyers and sellers who have worked with highly-regarded, hand-holding brokerages. Despite the fact that those brokerages used top-tier transaction management systems, the buyers and sellers were never once invited to join a Loop or enter a Transaction Room. Their experience of the brokerage’s brand was every bit as disjointed as before the implementation of transaction management—and this will continue to be the case until agents truly adopt systems and use tools as they are intended.
Under Utilized = Lost Value
If you use a transaction management system, it’s likely to yield speed, efficiency, improved compliance, and often better security. But if you’re not truly using these basic benefits, you’re not feeding your ROI — plain and simple.
Going beyond the bottom line
Every broker I’ve spoken with who is proud of their transaction management platform believes it is an advantage when recruiting new agents. Yet the very agents that brokers are trying to so hard to accommodate by taking care of all the details—well, they’re not realizing the value.
Here’s why. Most agents already come from brokerages that also use a transaction management system. Many may have even been enamored of their previous broker’s system. In theory, every transaction management and brokerage process sounds like a dream. But in reality, if your training isn’t up to snuff, and you’re insulating your agents from fully utilizing your transaction management platform, it will be hard to use your platform as a recruiting tool. How can it be a recruiting advantage if it’s being used as a back-office system instead of a client-facing tool that could help agents engage with their customers?
Agents succeed when broker-provided tools make it easier for them to work with clients. Transaction management can smooth a typically hectic, stressful, and confusing process for buyers and sellers—if agents are trained to use it, in its entirety. Transaction management tools enable agents to share, communicate, and give consumers access to pertinent transaction information. When the tools are used, the improved customer experience leads to many referrals and higher value listings.
Naturally, all of these factors can affect business growth. But what about mobility? Single-sign-on applications that allow you to service customers on the go—that’s what a good transaction management system offers. Well, isn’t all that getting jammed up and tossed aside by all the problems we’ve covered here? What good is all this mobile-friendly information if agents and customers can’t easily find it again in one simple location?
No, not all transaction management solutions are created equal. And any serious system deserves your full attention and focus. There’s too much at stake. So…
What’s to be done?
As you consider choosing a digital management system or reevaluate how to use the one you have, ask yourself these questions. Then pick one system and settle in. Resist the urge to jump to every next, new thing or use multiple tools to complete the same task.
- How does your brokerage intend to use transaction management? Who is it for? Who will see the most value and be most motivated to use the tool—therefore helping to influence adoption and success throughout the brokerage?
- Does the system fit your infrastructure? Does it offer reliable support?
- What are your goals and expectations? Are you streamlining your process to accommodate your most productive agents and push growth? Are you looking for a back-office tool to replace your filing system and storage cabinets? Are you expecting full adoption and value out of your system?
- What does your brand stand for—reliability, hustle, fantastic marketing? What kind of culture are you trying build—one where agents are salespeople, where they’re clients to be catered to, or where they’re trusted business partners? How do you want customers to experience your brand?
- What will your consumers value? Will the system be easy for them to use? Is security a factor?
To see ROI and improve compliance, brokers need to overcome the adoption issue. Remember, adoption is not about training sessions. It’s about knowing what you want your agents to adopt.
If it’s going to be a back office tool run by administrative staff with minimal effort on the agents’ part, train for that. If the goal is to have agents truly leverage what your system can do…well, that’s something different. That’s going to require they adopt the system to manage the entire transaction, from e-signing to storage to sharing to using it as a client communication tool.
It truly is a brand decision when a brokerage plans to adopt a transaction system. Some brokers and agents do use their platform fully. But others are hand-holding and use transaction coordinators to manage everything, including who gets invited to use the tools. These choices are part of your brand and they shape the consumer experience.
At the end of the day, agents are the ones out on the front line, interacting with clients, and representing the brokerage. If brokers want to full value out of their system, they need to trust and allow agents to be totally engaged in the process. If not, brokers won’t see full adoption and a lot of those benefits will continue to be lost. Agents must be able to understand, appreciate, and collaborate using the multifaceted system tools.
Brokerages need to set usage expectations that reflect their brand and fit their culture. They need to establish a sound process and train for that process. That should include how and when to invite clients into the transaction and educate clients on how to get the most out of their transaction system. And, because brokerages don’t live in isolation, include how to interact with co-agents when they use different tools.
Only then can there be full adoption that allows agents to provide a consistent customer experience. Only then is there true visibility into company operations and pipeline.
Who took the survey
The survey was fielded to 1,997 Eight11.com subscribers on May 9, 2015, and held open for one week. The incidence of qualified respondents to participate in the survey was 88 percent.
32 percent of respondents were brokers.
- 66 percent own an independent brokerage.
- Independent: 66 percent are male. 78 percent are over the age of 45. 58 percent have less than 10 agents. 78 percent handle less than 500 transactions annually. 74 percent claim their average transaction is less than $500,000.
- Franchise: 66 percent are male. 78 percent are over the age of 45. 57 percent have more than 51 agents. 51 percent handle more than 500 transactions annually. 78 percent claim their average transaction is less than $500,000.
- Which digital transaction management system do they use? 30 percent use DocuSign, 26 percent Other, 18 percent None, 12 percent Dotloop, 10 percent Instanet, 6 percent Skyslope.
68 percent were agents
- 57 percent work for a franchise brokerage.
- Independent: 50 percent are male. 63 percent are over the age of 45. 50 percent work at brokerages with less than 100 agents. 57 percent handle less than 25 transactions annually. 70 percent claim their average transaction is less than $500,000.
- Franchise: 58 percent are female. 85 percent are over the age of 45. 50 percent work at brokerages with less than 100 agents. 82 percent handle less than 50 transactions annually. 67 percent claim their average transaction is less than $500,000.
- Which digital transaction management system do they use? 31 percent use DocuSign, 29 percent Dotloop, 22 percent Other, 10 percent Instanet, 8 percent None, 6 percent Skyslope.
Facebook groups mentioned in article:
Editors’ Note: DocuSign is a client of our sister company, August Partners.