Remember “Ask Jeeves”? That early Internet search engine was created back in 1996, just one of the many tech innovations that transformed … well, everything in the 1990s, including the real estate industry.
Long & Foster celebrated its 20th anniversary in business in 1988, just two years before the Internet first became available for unrestricted commercial use. Since then, a wave of technology has revolutionized the real estate industry.
“I remember the first assistant I hired back in the early 1990s saying to me, ‘Leslie, we need to learn about this thing called the Internet’,” says Leslie Kopp, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Bethany Beach, Delaware. “I was one of the first agents in Bethany to have a website.”
Kopp says she owned a “bag phone” for her car, which was so expensive to use that it was reserved for emergencies only.
“We used pagers instead, so the office could send a message that said ‘call office’ and I could pull over and use a pay phone,” says Kopp. “I was in the car a lot, since we had to drive to present contracts in person. I was at the beach and a lot of my clients lived in D.C., but sometimes they would meet me halfway in Baltimore.”
Boofie O’Gorman, a 25-year agent with Long & Foster in Reston, Virginia, remembers how a dot-matrix printer and a fax machine changed her business, sometime in the early 1990s.
“The computer would spit out info on thermal fax paper, but we quickly learned that if we kept the paper too long, especially in a hot car, the ink would just fade away,” says O’Gorman. “We used a fax machine for the first time sometime in the 1990s and it was just mind-blowing to realize that my clients in Tokyo could get paperwork from me a minute after I sent it.”
Technology, especially email and DocuSign, have made agents’ lives easier, says O’Gorman, who once presented a contract at a bar in D.C. at 2 a.m. because that was the only time she could see her client in person to collect signatures.
The 1990s were a transitional time for technology, with eBay founded in 1995, Google’s search engine established in 1998 and the first iMac computer available the same year. Home values went through a big transition, too, from a median national value of $79,100 in 1990 to a median of $119,600 in 2000. Mortgage rates started at 10.43 percent in January 1988 and dropped to 7.91 percent in December 1998. Rates were never lower than 6.71 percent during that 10-year period.
Power of data for agents
Even as technology began to transform real estate, the power over listing information and data remained in the hands of agents, says O’Gorman.
“That made it easier for us because if a house wasn’t selling we could lower the price and reboot the listing without every buyer knowing about the earlier price,” says O’Gorman. “There’s a lot more pressure on us now to nail the price upfront because it is so critical in today’s market.”
Professionalism increasingly important in real estate
Whether it was the need for real estate agents to become more tech-savvy or to be vigilant about keeping up with continuing education, Kopp says agents have become much more professional..
“As an industry, we’re more respected, and I think that’s because we are more professional in our behavior,” says Kopp. “We have to be well-educated and professional to survive in this business. We’re not thought of as used-car salesmen anymore.”
Professionalism always goes hand-in-hand with personal relationships, though, says Kopp. One of her fondest memories of the 1990s, when she first got into the business, was driving clients around Bethany in her convertible.
“Everyone told me I needed to get a four-door sedan, but I loved my convertible,” she says. “I’ll never forget this one couple, where the husband was not really excited or emotional about buying a place at the beach. But it was a beautiful day and he asked me to put down the top of the convertible. He had a huge smile on his face. They bought a place that day.”
All the technology in the world can’t erase that essential personal connection between agents and clients.
“Long & Foster is structured to support agents so they can do their jobs,” says O’Gorman. “The company cares about us as individuals and we care about our customers, too.”