Keller Williams co-founder and CEO Gary Keller and Inman founder and publisher Brad Inman got back in the ring at Inman Connect Now, but it wasn’t to butt heads. The two industry titans, along with Keller President Josh Team, united around taking a stand against discrimination amid racial turmoil and using technology to help agents and consumers win during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
The session, titled “A Vision for the Real Estate Industry,” comes during “sobering times” says Keller, who was “extremely humbled” by current events. Protests against police brutality have spread across the country in recent days in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.
“I realized something about myself. I’m not a racist and I’m not a person who discriminates, but I woke up this morning and I realized that just being that way is no longer enough,” Keller said. “From this moment on, I’m forever changed by these events. I have to be anti-discrimination. I have to be anti-racism. I can’t just be not it anymore.”
Racial Disparities in Industry
Keller announced in an email last week that the company is creating a new task force to address racial disparities at Keller Williams and the industry at large.
Inman said, and Keller agreed, that real estate leaders have a “profound duty” to do more. “We have to become activists.”
He then turned the floor over to Keller, who spoke about what the industry will look like on the other side of the pandemic, saying “we’re seeing … a true fast track to disruption,” because the industry will embrace technologies in the next 18 months to two years that it might have otherwise taken a decade to embrace.
“Every day physically based businesses wake-up, and they ask this question: What’s the least I have to do digitally to protect my physically based business? The problem is digital-based businesses ask: What’s the least I need to do in the physical space to kick your physical-based butt?” Keller said.
New Normal Has Changed Behavior
The pandemic has created a “new normal” that is changing the behavior of both agents and consumers, according to Keller.
“Just because we have a new normal, doesn’t mean it’s worse. Agents across the globe, they are now digitally based and … doing open houses through Facebook Live and asking the question: Do we need to go physical and what does that look like? We’re not going back,” Keller said.
He predicted mergers and acquisitions between technology firms, vendors, and brokerages would speed up. New alliances and partnerships that might have “looked like strange bedfellows yesterday,” will today seem “to totally make sense,” he said.
Inman agreed. “Two years ago, we had all these innovators talking about the digital streamlined transaction, and what you’re saying is now the rest of the industry … is moving over to that digital era. I expect a lot more cooperation, a lot less fighting.”
Tech-enabled consumers will be the winners, according to Keller.
“Better, higher quality consumer value and experience that delights them, saves them money, saves them time … is all happening, right?”
Need for Digital Transactions Surfaced
Before the pandemic there was a theoretical debate about what problem a digital transaction would be solving, but now everyone agrees that consumers need to safely transact real estate, so lenders and counties and states are jumping on board with digital signatures and closings.
Keller offered a couple of hypotheticals that he said would likely become reality in the next year. The first was that an agent would be able to offer a homeowner the ability to refinance at no cost to them because the agent’s platform would monitor interest rates and the condition of the home to alert the homeowner as to the best time to refinance.
“That’s going to delight and amaze the consumer,” Keller said. Another example he gave was an agent providing a new homeowner with his or her preferred vendors, a maintenance schedule with alerts set up and the ability to set up an appointment with a vendor with the push of a button.
“What’s happening now is operating systems are being created for real estate agents to run every aspect of their business,” he said.
That will include the ability for agents to create customized experiences for consumers on their website, similar to Netflix and Amazon, according to Keller. Agents will also be able to track consumer behavior in a way that helps them predict when a consumer is ready to list a property or the chances that an offer will be accepted, he said.
“At the end of the day, the platform always wins. So the the tech-enabled consumer, the tech-enabled agent, the tech-enabled brokerage, those are the men and women who are going to be the biggest winners,” Keller said.
Will Keller Close Brick-and-Mortar?
In response to an audience question wondering whether he’ll close Keller Williams’ brick-and-mortar offices, Keller said no because there are limitations to doing things digitally.
“You’re going to blend it … in as best a way as possible. And we’re going to discover that some things should be done digitally, and others can be physical,” Keller said.
One consequence might be that “boring real estate offices are in trouble,” said Keller Williams President Josh Team.
“We have an opportunity as a real estate community to reimagine what the real estate office looks like in the future,” he said.
Independent of current events, Keller Williams believes competition in the industry means agents and consumers win, according to Team.
“You just have a lot of players making big bets with a lot of free capital, knowing that there had to be a change. And now that we’re in this change climate, now that the end of this transition is very in front of us, I think you’re going to see the consolidation, I think you’re going to see the mergers, I think you’re going to see the simplification of these solutions become ever present,” Team said.
“Ultimately, when we all start just focusing on how to provide more value to agents and their businesses … agents win at every brokerage, and their consumers win at every brokerage.”
Mergers or Acquisitions?
Is Keller Williams planning any consolidation, mergers and/or acquisitions?
“As it can be faster and cheaper at times to buy than build an agent-demanded product or service and make it available quickly, acquisitions remain a consideration,” spokesperson Darryl Frost said via email.
Asked if he had any last words at the end of the Inman session: “You’re going to tell me when I’m off, and I’m going to tell you when you’re off, but at the end, you know what, I appreciate you, and I think everyone watching appreciates you and what you’re trying to accomplish for all of us. So I just want to say thanks, and if you want to get sparky, call me.”
This, however, was a time for locking arms, digitally or physically.
“We’re all in this together,” Keller said. “And the only way we win is by being together.”