What can Real Estate Learn from Uber?


Last summer, a group of us stepped out of a bar in Boston’s Back Bay.  It was around 11pm and we needed to get back to Cambridge.   At least 5 cabs were passing by on the busy street and as I took a step onto the road to hail us a cab, I heard one of my friends say “Our Uber is on the way”.   Within 5 minutes and a little bit of back-and-forth texting with the driver, we were on our way to Cambridge in a newish Toyota Rav4 with the music blasting.

So why choose Uber when there’s plenty of cabs around and no need to wait?  Was it cheaper?  No.  On that busy Saturday night, Uber’s famous surge pricing was on, ringing up at 1.3x the usual fare.

The reason Uber has become a such meme, or our default go-to is because Uber didn’t just build a taxi app, it built a journey experience that took most of the friction out of the process of taking a taxi.   While we hire a taxi because we need to get from one place to another, the taxi experience leaves a lot to be desired.

First, is the task of hailing the cab itself.   Standing on the side of the road and raising your hand isn’t exactly in most people’s comfort zone.   Unless you’re a regular taxi passenger, you start experiencing anxiety by the time the second cab passes you by with no acknowledgement (or with a passenger who’s smirking at you in spite).   Second, comes safety and hygiene while you’re in the vehicle.   Cities typically generate substantial revenues from licensing cabs, however, they really fall short at policing the quality of the drivers and the vehicles.    If you’ve ever had a “driver from hell” ride, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  How about the payment?  There’s nothing like sitting in a cab for an extra 10-minutes while you’re already late to your meeting or want to get home after a long flight, waiting for your credit card to go through or receipt to print.

If you’ve ever took an Uber, you know exactly how Uber makes the experience better and seamless.   It takes away all the friction of needing to hail a ride.  You just tap on the app and always know when your car is arriving.  With Uber’s driver rating, you get a better sense of who you’ve entrusted with your life that’s behind the wheel.   Of course, the ability to just get on your way and not worry about the payment and calculating how much you should tip is a big plus.  If that’s not enough, Uber drivers often carry bottles of water, gum and magazines to make the ride even more pleasant.

Uber are not the only ones seeking to remove friction from consumers.  Have you tried ordering McDonald’s with their new smartboards?  How about bypassing a lineup of 20 people at Starbucks by ordering via their app (I did, and it felt awesome!)?  How’s that for taking friction out and creating an experience that has consumers raving and telling all their friends about it.

While taking a taxi or ordering a latte are nothing like buying or selling homes, there is still a lot to be desired when you look at what your client’s experience during the buying and selling process.   Clients are still dealing with renovations, staging, rates, inspections, comps, contracts, offers, and open houses, even before they get experience the fun of moving.

Each of those experiences bring friction and stress that make people think twice before deciding to move.  Surprisingly very few parties within the home buying experience are doing much to improve the client’s experience.   While agents try to control the process, banks, insurance companies, and others still insist on piles of paperwork being filled out.   Credit checks, appraisals, inspections, certifications, all can be done in much simpler ways, yet clients are put through the ringer each time.  Deals are still being done by fax, despite so many affordable options out there for eSignature tools.   There’s friction built into every step and buyers and sellers have no other choice but to go along with it.

In the era where consumers choose experiences over products and services, whoever improves the experience for the consumer usually wins big.  We’ve already seen how Zillow and realtor.com saw the need to improve the home search experience and have quickly become the preferred way for anyone searching for a home.  Almost all other areas are wide open for those who believe that their success will be based on the experience they deliver.

While you might not have the resources of Zillow, what are you doing to remove as much friction as you can from the home buying experience?

Many progressive agents and teams are now including services such as staging, home inspections and eSignatures as part of their full service to clients.  They meticulously orchestrate the experience at every touchpoint in the process, and work behind the scenes to make sure the client experiences much less friction and saves time (who doesn’t want to save time?).

Is it working?  Numerous studies show that consumers will readily pay more for better service.  There’s nothing new here.  That’s why we choose to go to finer restaurants, 5 star resorts, etc.  The greater multiplier for agents is that great experiences are quite often shared through word of mouth, and when your clients are increasingly spending time on platforms like Facebook or Twitter, word spreads like wildfire.    Make one client’s life easy, and five more could be potentially calling you.

As you think about your business, how are you removing friction?  What can you do today what will surprise and even delight your clients?

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