In 1902 the first Automat restaurant opened in center city Philadelphia. It quickly moved on to New York City and automat restaurants could be found in most of the northern industrial cities during the early 20’s and 30’s. When cars became more prevalent and families could get further away from the city centers the drive-thru restaurants took over and the automats declined and eventually the US automats closed their doors forever.
The automat style of real estate is popping up all across the US. A large Seattle based company has announced it is opening its doors in the DC area. Offering buyer rebates (nothing new) and fixed rate listings (nothing new) it promises to deliver savings to home buyers and sellers across our area. However just like the automats of yesterday what it doesn’t deliver is personalized choices.
Making a decision about potentially one of the single biggest financial obligations a buyer will make in their lifetime is not one that can be automated. The choices that need to be made are not all black and white. The real estate contracts in our area are very complicated and one wrong check on a box could leave you vulnerable. The same is true with sellers. In a market where you are competing with thousands of other homes for sale, will just putting your home on the MLS and waiting for a buyer to come get it sold.
This is why a full service Realtor® who provides you choices on how you want to buy or sell your home is the right decision in today’s market. I’m all for automating the right processes in real estate. I think it is great that buyers have multiple choices on searching the MLS for homes. I am all for automated back office operations to process contracts after the buyer has been through the contract hand in hand with a Realtor® and thoroughly understands the implications. What worries me is the part in between. The time when a buyer needs the guidance of someone who understands the market, knows the neighborhoods and can make sure that the buyer’s interests are covered.
The same holds true for a seller. In a slow market making sure that a home is marketed beyond the MLS is crucial. This is why so many FSBO owners eventually end up listing with a full-service Realtor®. They learn that trying to keep their home in front of the buying public is not as easy as it looks. Understanding the value of your home among all of the competition, knowing your neighborhood and protecting your interests during the sale are all important.
So will the full automation of real estate be successful? Buyers and sellers who understand that the processes involved in a real estate transaction are not as easy as filling out an on-line form and who want choices will find that automation is not going to work for them. Just look at what happened to the Automat restaurants when they couldn’t deliver personalize choices. They folded their doors and left the US landscape forever.