Realtors Becoming Obsolete Without Smart Home Tech for On-Demand Home Buyers

NterNow, a platform that enables on-demand home buyers to check out homes for sale, is just the beginning of a revolution of home buying and selling in the digital age, which will change the business models of traditional Realtors.


NterNow (formerly Call-a-Key) is a start-up that provides smart-home technologies for on-demand home buyers. With a smart lock on homes for sale, and a back-end service for buyers and sellers, the solution helps home builders and consumers alike bypass traditional Realtors.

According to the company, 77% of property buyers shop online and then drive by the properties before calling an agent. My research reveals different data* but clearly an increasing number of on-demand buyers research homes online and then drive by properties of interest.

What happens then can make or break a deal. You research a house. You drive by the property. You fall in love. You call a Realtor and make an appointment to get inside the house. You really, really like it. You call again to make an appointment to see the property with your spouse … and yet again to take your kids through the place, and possibly an architect or contractor.

In an age where perfect strangers open their homes to unknown travelers, we’re still buying and selling homes like this?

No wonder Realtors charge so much for their services. They need to recoup expenses for time and gas, what with all the driving around they do just to unlock doors for clients.

I am what you would call an on-demand home buyer. If a for-sale home is unoccupied and I drive by, I want to see it right then and there. Imagine a dozen others just like me. We could create a bidding war that otherwise might not occur.

In an age where perfect strangers open their homes to unknown travelers, we’re still buying and selling homes like this?

Why aren’t we seeing self-entry services for people like us? All it would take is a back-end verification system for potential buyers and a few smart locks and cameras at the property. Why isn’t this a “thing”?

I asked this question to representatives of the National Association of Realtors during the Builders Show in January, and all I got was shoulder shrugs.

NAR should be leading the charge on this, but Realtors feel threatened, according to NterNow founder Lynne Parker Davis. They want to feel useful and to engage with the client to justify their commissions.

Parker Davis should know. She’s a long-time Realtor herself.

During the opening reception this week at the BDX Summit, a technology and marketing event for homebuilders, she told me how Realtors have avoided initiatives that might encourage DIY buyers and undercut Realtors.

Platforms like NterNow, however, can aid Realtors by tracking data on customers visiting properties and allowing  buyers to see more properties on their own time. They could also, as mentioned above, benefit from potential bidding wars by increasing the amount of traffic in any given home.

Even so, NterNow is targeting home builders in particular who want to generate heavy foot traffic … and fast. I met one of these builders at the BDX Summit. He was sold on the idea, especially given the rich data collected on prospective buyers.

Realtors may leave business cards at a home-for-sale, but that says nothing about the shopper. NterNow knows about the buyers themselves – who they are, where they live, which homes they visit, and more.

How NterNow Works

NterNow starts with a smart door lock at the premises.

Consumers who see an NterNow home can call the number at the front door or download the app to provide verifiable information about their identity. They receive a one-time-use access code to punch into the lock.

NterNow claims to have a unique process for customer verification, and users must request a new access code each time they visit a home.

NterNow can then track data on shopping behaviors, which would be invaluable to builders and sellers.

Property sellers or their agents pay a $100 set-up fee per property, plus $99 per month.

Parker Davis says the company has “hundreds of locks” in the field, with 25-30 builders using them in about 75 subdivisions.

Next Generation of Home Buying and Selling

NterNow’s platform is almost too silly to write about because the solution is so simple and so long in coming.

The next steps in my view would be to add sensors to the home to determine traffic patterns, which could inform builders and sellers in so many ways – how they should market, what they should fix, etc.

Security systems should be added to ensure all doors are closed and locked when the visitor leaves.

Obviously cameras on the property would be an important step (NterNow doesn’t use them) as sellers could gauge not just traffic patterns but also the response from buyers, their kids and their contractors.

Eventually, we will see platforms like this evolve to serve DIY home sellers as well. And the process will be extended way beyond just opening the doors to would-be buyers.

Eventually, DIY sellers and buyers will enjoy comprehensive online services for negotiating prices, arranging financing and closing the deal.

Realtors should think of ways to cannibalize themselves … before the sharing economy does it for them.

Useful Research on Realtors and Home Buying Habits in the Digital Age

Real Estate in a Digital Age, 2017 Report (NAR)

Consumer Housing Report, 2016 (Zillow)

The Digital House Hunt: Consumer and Market Trends in Real Estate, 2013 (NAR, Google)

NAR Research and Statistics

*According to a 2013 report by the National Association of Realtors and Google (pdf), 47% of first-time home buyers used the Internet to search for a home and 77% of first-time buyers drove by a home viewed online.

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson




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