Interview: Chris’ Take on Tech in Real Estate

How did you end up where you are today

I started in accounting, I worked in the CPA world with a real estate background. Over time, I drifted away from the CPA path. I knew it wasn’t for me. After CPA, I got an agent license and I thought my background provided a unique skill set to the industry. Thus, I went on my own and failed A LOT along the way, looking for a tech market fit in real estate.

How did you first incorporate tech in the real estate space?

With the help of engineers, my buddy and I built a pretty cool property search platform for buyers. There was a messaging feature, between agents and buyers, that we thought was state of the art at the time. After building a ton of legacy code that nobody wanted, we realized that we weren’t really solving a problem. The buyer search was occupied by major sites, like Zillow and Trulia, it didn’t make sense for us to compete there.

As you faced these challenges, what was your outlook?

I think many people perceive life is this perpetual climb to the top of a mountain and then you finally reach the top, raise your hands in the air, and scream “I made it!!” When in actuality, life is more like walking up 10 feet of the mountain, and then falling into a 30 foot drop off, meaning there isn’t a linear climb to the top. There are a ton of ups and downs. For me, it’s all about persistence and surrounding yourself with talented people, engineers and creatives especially.

So, what do you do now?

I currently own a real estate brokerage in South Boston. I work with a rockstar CTO and a talented digital team. We’ve built a proprietary database tool which helps us stand out from the rest, it basically tells us who is more likely to sell their home.

What inspired you to leverage tech/data for real estate?

I didn’t just want to be a traditional agent/broker and sell places. I felt I needed to add a ton of value in what I was doing and building. When I look back on what really started things for me, it was on the tech and data side. I’ve owned a place in Southie for some time now. I frequently get mailers from real estate agents, enticing me to sell. I actually received one yesterday! After collecting so many mailers, I thought to myself over the years, this can’t be the best way to reach owners. I mean I’m a broker, myself, receiving these mailers with no analytics on them. So, how many of these are actually read and converted into sale? A very small percent.

How do you identify a potential opportunity to use tech in a non-traditional situation?

I try to look at things from a high level and ask where the most value is added. In my industry, Redfin, the discount broker, has gained a lot of market share because buyers/sellers are getting smarter. They have begun to question the value of an agent. There are many agents covering too much territory in order to survive. When this happens, there is very little value add to the consumer. (i.e. if you have an out of town agent repping a buyer in South Boston, often times, there is very little value add for the buyer.) Whereas, if I was representing you as a buyer, I’d be able to give you neighborhood knowledge along with off market opportunities outside of MLS.

And for sellers, I can create an unmatched amount of bandwidth (targeting buyers) for your home because of our database technology.

What are some challenges you face building as a non-technical person?

Where do I start!? Haha. I actually want to write a book about this, maybe I’ll call it, The Technical Guide for Non-Tech Founders. I haven’t seen anything like it out there, have you?  Would you like to co-author with me? Making the right hiring decisions is a huge challenge, ALONG with building something a bunch of people actually need. Finding really great engineers to buy into your work can be tough. I’ve spent a lot of time in my early days on Elance (which is now UpWork) and you can get burned on there. I’ve always been bootstrapped, and when you make a mistake, it really really hurts.

Why do you think real estate is one of the last industries to adapt to new software and technologies? (calculations by hand and not through a database)

Great question! I think it is mostly because the business model has stood the test of time very well, even with the internet disruption in many other industries. 2005 and 2015, saw a wave of change. But, even with all the advancements on the home buying front, there is still a complicated and mostly analog process after the online search occurs. An end to end platform is coming and this will be interesting. Currently, there are some really talented people working on this.

Overall, how would you characterize the adoption of new technologies in the real estate space?

Real estate literally touches everything we do, because it defines our environment, our physical space. Think about this: of all the tech changes we have seen in our lifetime

ex. Amazon(goods), Facebook/Apple(communication), Google(information), Uber/Lyft(transport). Paypal/Venmo(Capital space.)

Real estate is larger than all of these categories combined. Real estate will evolve more quickly than people think. Venture Capital has poured a ton of money into the race, recently. The new wave startups are tackling a wide range of areas — building management, financing, co-working, appraisals, building amenities and empty retail space, even tech-enabled construction, management, and maintenance.

Do you think the future of real estate will evolve as they adapt to using new technology?

Yes, with the rise of technologies like autonomous vehicles, the drone, robotic delivery, decentralized workspaces, and other macro trends. These inventions are likely to lead to a complete transformation in how we utilize the spaces in which we work and live.

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