Editor's note: This story was published in the Record-Eagle's Momentum '17 special publication. For more stories from northern Michigan's economic engine, see Sunday's newspaper for a copy of Momentum, or click here to read Momentum in its entirety online.
TRAVERSE CITY — Imagine buying a home or other piece of real estate without ever having set foot on the property.
Such transactions were almost unheard of a few years ago. But the way of doing business in the real estate sector is changing rapidly. With buyers viewing properties through virtual tours, using FaceTime with their real estate agents and even drone inspections, consumers can do their real estate homework from literally half a world away.
“I sold six houses last year that the buyer never stepped foot in,” said Holly Hack, broker/owner of Exit Realty based in Traverse City.
Digital technology and the internet continue to generate rapid change in the real estate sector. An industry where professionals once held most of the market information, potential buyers traipsed across communities to view properties and attended all sorts of meetings to close a deal has been forever changed by the digital age.
These days most any real estate listing is readily available online, properties can be viewed from a home, office or smart phone and documents are easily transferred and signed digitally. Hack said while this region doesn’t set the technology trends like the markets on the East and West coasts and places like Florida, it doesn’t take long for northern Michigan to catch up.
Hack embraces the changes. Her office went paperless five years ago, reducing costs and paper waste, and her business card is available in a phone app.
She typically communicates with customers via texting, as emails and phone calls are on the wane. She also notes other environmental benefits from technology, including the elimination of countless car trips by buyers, sellers and agents to show and view properties. It also expedites the process of a property deal, which can be handled in days and even hours instead of weeks or longer.
“Everyone wants things immediately — we expect things to happen quicker today,” she said. “We’re trying to make the customer’s experience better.”
Still, Hack has a soft spot for the traditional real estate deal.
“I love showing houses ... I like going out to meet people,” she said. Handwritten thank you notes also are a regular part of her day. She writes up to a dozen to clients and customers each week.
Hack also is a long-time student of the region’s real estate market, having grown up in Traverse City and working as a lender before getting into the real estate business. She sees a tight housing market, especially with lower-end properties, as people are staying in their homes longer and the construction of new homes in the aftermath of the recession hasn’t kept pace with the demand.
Interest rates are also starting to rise, which impacts the housing market as it reduces the price point for some buyers as financing costs eat up more of their buying power. The region’s real estate market remains strong, Hack said, but various economic factors will continue to affect both buyers and sellers.
Changing technologies and advancements also will continue to make real estate professionals evolve their way of doing business. Hack said people in her industry have little choice but to adapt to the new way of working.
“You’re either going to embrace it and move forward, or you’re going to be left in the dust,” she said.