Michael Reilly remembers a time 10 years ago when real estate professionals were quick to grab at shiny technology objects without giving much thought to how those tools would actually help them run their businesses more efficiently and effectively. Since then agents and brokers learned that the “latest and greatest” tech tools don’t necessarily translate into improved productivity, better resource utilization, and higher income levels.

“The push to implement new technology isn’t as rampant these days,” says Reilly, broker-owner at Reilly, REALTORS® in Austin. “But back in 2009, all agents were waking up and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I need a website.’ Then, they’d go out and invest $50,000 in a new website and never learn how to load it with content, use it to generate new clients, and grow their businesses.”

With the frenzied days of new-tech exploration behind them, the same professionals are taking a more discerning approach to technology.

For example, more professionals are adding the human component to the mix, knowing that investing in technology for technology’s sake is a flawed and often expensive approach. “You can’t just go out and buy the stuff,” Reilly points out. “You have to commit to using it and to hiring people who can understand it and help brokers and agents leverage it. Technology doesn’t really do anything that magical on its own; it takes people.”

As technology continues to evolve, here’s how some Texas agents and brokers are leveraging its power.

Managing the end-to-end transaction process

Reilly, who runs his 150-agent brokerage out of a small office, credits automation with helping him streamline to the point where he needs just enough physical space for a six-person staff. “Agents don’t come in unless they’re here for training,” says Reilly, whose team built a proprietary, advanced transaction management system using the Quick Base cloud application development platform.

The transaction management platform enables agents to fill out, update, and share closing documents, disbursements, authorizations, commission breakdowns, and all other pertinent paperwork digitally. Reilly says having a custom solution versus a pre-made software package allows the company to build onto it as needed. For example, a few years ago Reilly, REALTORS® started paying its agents downline to recruit new agents—a process that needs to be tracked as the new agent starts closing his or her own deals. That, along with the tracking of multiple agents or outside transaction coordinators working on deals together, are all handled by the firm’s transaction management system.

Compass takes a similar approach, having also built a transaction management system that integrates all client, listing, deal, commission, and related data on a single platform. Marnie Greenwood, a sales agent in Houston, says sellers use the platform to get real-time statistics on their listings, right down to the average amount of time that potential buyers spend looking at their listings online—and whether they’re returning viewers, what cities they come from, and other details.

“This really cuts down on clients wondering ‘where is our agent?’ and ‘what’s happening with our house?’” Greenwood says. “And it provides the detailed information that today’s buyers and sellers really crave.”

Creating reusable, digital marketing templates

A big believer in using technology to support the very “people-centric” real estate business, Reilly says his company has been doing more digital marketing for its agents lately. He plans to carry that approach forward, with the Reilly, REALTORS® two-person in-house marketing team using more template-based digital marketing assets to support the firm’s agents. Those assets include e-cards that say, “Just Listed,” “Just Sold,” or “Open House,” and that include the company’s logo, the agent’s picture, and the pertinent marketing content.

“We drag and drop the home photo and information into the template, and then deliver it to the agent digitally,” says Reilly. “Agents can then post the e-cards on Facebook and send out the links which, in turn, take the viewer to the additional information and the agent’s website.

“It all sounds and feels very high-tech, but at the end of the day, it’s just work,” says Reilly. “You need the branding templates and a system that allows agents to request materials that they need to be able to list and sell homes.”

Reilly says that while technology does aid in the marketing process, marketing team members do most of the heavy lifting. “You can buy any type of software off the shelf,” he says, “but it takes real people behind the scenes to make it work.”

Developing 3D home listings that impress

Every October through December, Houston’s real estate market transforms into a hub for relocating workers who are looking for homes in the area. “It’s our second-busiest selling season,” says Courtney McDonald, an agent with Keller Williams Premier Realty in Katy. To attract those buyers, McDonald uses 3D home listing technology that allows her to create impressive online home tours for out-of-town buyers who can’t attend showings in person.

“The clients that feel comfortable purchasing a home sight-unseen do so because they feel like they have a physical sense of the home’s true essence,” says McDonald, who has used 3D listings to close numerous deals with out-of-town buyers and buyers from other states. “Properties cannot be altered or enhanced with the virtual-tour tool I’m using, which becomes a benefit for today’s knowledgeable buyers.”

Tags embedded in the presentations allow viewers to more closely check out what type of granite is in the kitchen or what flooring is in the master bathroom.

To create the presentations, McDonald uses Matterport’s 3D camera/virtual tour platform. She also uses the Canva graphic design tool and the Issuu digital publishing platform. “I use Canva to create extremely professional-looking flyers and marketing materials,” says McDonald, “and then I upload them using Issuu. The end result is a beautiful online magazine that provides one more avenue for helping to get my listings sold.”

Leveraging data-driven marketing

Big data isn’t just another passing fad. Large data sets that may be digitally analyzed reveal patterns, trends, and associations—especially those relating to human behavior and interactions. This type of data analysis is bringing brokers, agents, and their clients more and better information than ever before.

Greenwood is one of those agents. Using her company’s proprietary technology, she can take a deep dive into the data that the company is generating daily and come up with innovative selling approaches for her listings. Recently, she was working with a homeowner who had her property on the market for nine months—both for lease and for sale—with no success. “They didn’t get a single offer,” says Greenwood. “The listing was basically dead.”

After a mutual friend recommended Greenwood to the seller, Greenwood decided she was up to the challenge of listing the home. She photographed the home, created a digital campaign for it, and came up with a target buyer demographic based on data for that campaign. Using data Compass provided, she was able to pinpoint that demographic with tools like pop-up ads, which align with that demographic’s online habits. What she didn’t do was reduce the price. “It was under contract within five days,” says Greenwood.

Greenwood says this type of data-driven marketing works particularly well in real estate, where people who have been statistically identified as potential buyers (based on their incomes, careers, ages, current locations, and so forth) can be targeted with relevant ads. “Instead of just throwing mud at the wall and hoping that the right people see it,” says Greenwood, “we’re using data to reach the right people faster and more efficiently.”

Greenwood also uses social media to stay relevant—a move that she says continues to pay off in the form of closed deals. On Facebook, for example, she posts about her new listings and sold properties, highlighting interesting facts about them.

People take notice. At a black-tie affair recently, Greenwood says at least 10 people approached her and told her that she was “killing it” in real estate, and a true industry guru. “Using social reinforces your brand and gives people confidence in it,” says Greenwood. “That translates into a lot of closed deals for me.”