Defying the daze of disruption

January/February 2016 edition

By Cathie Dickinson

Digital disruption was the topic for debate and discussion at the 2015 REINSW Industry Summit, where delegates put forward their ideas about how to secure the future fitness of our industry.

Where is the industry heading in 2016? What will the industry look like in 2020? Will digital rule our world? Or will relevant, specialised and meaningful human interaction be valued above all else?

Where is the industry heading in 2016? What will the industry look like in 2020? Will digital rule our world? Or will relevant, specialised and meaningful human interaction be valued above all else?

These were the questions posed by REINSW President John Cunningham as he opened the third annual REINSW Industry Summit. Addressing more than 100 delegates on Friday, 27 November 2015 he said “life as we know it is changing”. But do we really have any idea about what lies ahead and are we prepared to meet the challenge?

“The rate of change in the last 12 months has been so significant that we felt it was critical for the industry as a whole to come together to focus on the challenges and opportunities posed by digital disruption.”


What is the REINSW Industry Summit?

Now in its third year, the REINSW Industry Summit provides delegates with the opportunity to discuss and share their views on the hot issues and evolving trends facing the profession. Delegates represent all facets of professional practice, as well as other key stakeholders. As the leading industry voice, REINSW uses the outcomes from the Summit each year to lead the charge in lobbying for a more robust profession, industry and marketplace.
The rapid rate of change
 Setting the scene for the Summit, facilitator Michael Sheargold highlighted how quickly technology has become central to everything we do.

“We saw the introduction of email back in 1971, the first PC modem in 1977, Google launched in 1998 and Facebook became part of our lives in 2004,” he said. “But there was something that happened in 2007 that really accelerated the rate of change – the release of the iPhone and the ability to have access to the web in the palm of your hand.

“The rate of change has been rapid and will continue to accelerate. Businesses need to adapt or be left behind.”

Mr Sheargold encouraged everyone in the room to embrace the opportunity to raise fresh ideas and engage in healthy debate. “The Summit is all about embracing disruption as a profession and working out how we can use it to our advantage,” he said.

So how can the industry meet the challenge of digital disruption? Delegates agreed on the following strategies.

Educating the agents of the future
Delegates were united about the fact that education standards need to be vastly improved.

“For the profession to survive the challenges of disruption, improving education standards is a must,” Mr Cunningham said. “For far too long we’ve allowed the government to ‘dumb down’ education standards. This has led to agents being able to enter and remain in the industry without the required skills and knowledge to operate as a competent professional.

“This is a lose-lose situation. Consumers lose because they are not receiving a service they expect and deserve. And agents lose because the reputation of the profession is tarnished.

“Enough is enough! It’s time to raise the bar on education standards and give our profession the respect it deserves and provide consumers with the service they deserve,” he said.

Viewing the industry differently
In order to meet the challenges of disruption, delegates said that we need to change the way we view the industry.

“The industry is not simply made up of real estate agents. It is so much more,” Mr Cunningham said. “Online media, print media, web portals, technology suppliers, data suppliers and many other stakeholders are all part of the real estate ‘eco-system’. Together we are all part of the property sector.”

Gone are the days when the profession can afford to work in silos. “We all need to work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for consumers, agents and the industry as a whole,” he said.

Providing clients with choice
Delegates were vocal about the fact that the profession can no longer afford to provide a one-size-fits-all service.

“A service providing that suits the needs of one client may not suit another,” Mr Cunningham explained. “One client may want an agent to provide an end-to-end service, including everything from property styling and photography through to organising removals and utility connections. Another client may want to pick and choose the things they want an agent to do.

“Consumers expect choice, so agents need to reinvent their service offering. We need to adjust our mindset to allow consumers to choose the level of service they want.”
Positioning agents as educators
Consumers now have a wealth of information at their fingertips. But delegates agreed that more information does not necessarily equal better information.

“Information is not power if the consumer does not know how to interpret it in a way that is meaningful and relevant to their particular situation,” Mr Cunningham said. “This is where we can step in as professional agents and provide real value to the relationship with our clients. We can be the educators and help our clients navigate their way through all the ‘noise’ and make the right decisions.”

Catering for micro-moments
Delegates acknowledged that technology has turned our lives into a series of micro-moments.

“Whether we are waiting in line at the supermarket checkout, filling up our car at the petrol station or sitting on the bus or train on the way to work, we don’t waste a moment,” Mr Cunningham said.

“We’re on our smartphones and mobile devices checking emails, surfing the internet or looking at our social media feeds. This is how we consume information.

“To communicate effectively with consumers, we need to cater for these micro-moments and ensure that we are delivering information in such a way that it can be consumed in a short space of time.”

Government and industry working together

In welcoming Minister for Innovation & Better Regulation Victor Dominello to the Summit, REINSW President John Cunningham told delegates that “we finally have a Minister who wants to talk to us and is prepared to act”.

“For far too long our pleas for reform have fallen on deaf ears, but Minister Dominello is committed to forging serious reform in the property sector and working with us to make it happen,” he said.

Minister Dominello congratulated REINSW on its leadership and emphasised how important it is for the government to work hand-in-hand with the industry.

“The industry needs to raise standards. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “But the real estate industry isn’t on its own in this respect. Professionals of all types need to improve. If you don’t think you need to improve, you’re not living in this century. Some might see [raising standards] as a barrier to entry. I don’t see it that way. A higher standard means a better service.”

Promising to keep the lines of communication open, Minister Dominello said that when it comes to reforming professional standards “the one thing I won’t do is act unilaterally”.

“One of the first things I did when I came into this portfolio was to make sure that we put structures in place to have a strong working relationship with REINSW.

“This has to be done in partnership. We will do the reform in partnership.”

Preserving the human element
Real estate has been and always will be about relationships, and digital disruption will not change this according to delegates.

“As more and more disruptors enter the space, the agents who focus on building and retaining strong, valuable and longstanding relationships will be the ones who survive,” Mr Cunningham said.

What’s next?
Mr Cunningham acknowledged that there is a lot of hard work ahead. “Our priority now is to take what has been discussed at the Summit and use it to formulate REINSW’s priorities in the coming year.

“Today is a very positive first step and we’re committed to working with agents and the wider industry to drive reform, lift standards, increase professionalism and shape the future of our industry.”

REINSW will provide regular updates to REINSW members regarding progress in relation to the outcomes.

Digital disruption has already happened
Uber The world’s largest taxi company owns no taxis

Airbnb The largest provider of accommodation owns no real estate

Skype The largest phone company owns no telco infrastructure

Alibaba The world’s most valuable retailer has no inventory

Facebook The world’s most popular media owners create no content

Netflix The world’s largest movie house owns no cinemas

Apple and Google The world’s largest software vendors don’t write apps