He’s an internet expert and an entrepreneur, a consultant to major companies and often seen or heard sharing his opinions on TV and on the radio. Danny Mekić, age 28, specialised at an early age in many currently relevant areas: new technologies, media, law and entrepreneurship. He’s been one of the best rated speakers at several congresses for (and about) estate agents. “One time, an agent approached me afterwards, telling me he understood things needed to change. But he also said he didn’t know anything about technology. He said that as functionality goes, his website could only do the basics. And he didn’t have the money to do more with it.”
Danny Mekić is looking for a new house. Somewhere in the city centre of Amsterdam, preferably something recently built. His other preferences are that there should be a lift, a parking lot and a roof terrace. The young entrepreneur tells us it’s difficult to find a nice building. The market for recently built property in the city centre is like a feeding frenzy again, just like it was before the crisis. “I wish there were some intelligent system that notifies me timely when there are new offers that fit my preferences exactly. A system would be better than an agent. I know exactly what I want.”
Has the introduction of so many new technologies made the job of an estate agent easier or more difficult?
“The important question is: what is an estate agent? Or rather: what will an estate agent do in the future? There are all sorts of possible answers to that. I think an estate agent of the future is someone who knows everything there is to know about housing. Not only when it comes to the buying and selling and renting of living or office space, but also everything else involved with it, like furnishing for example. I could also see estate agents of the future playing a part in increasing the value of a building. Like: we’ve just congratulated you on your new home. The price includes five years of coaching. During that time we’ll continuously analyse the area and keep an eye on the housing market in case prices peak, so you can consider selling or renting out your house if you want. Or maybe the agent’s digital system indicates that now is a good time to replace the kitchen, because for example some new regulation makes it more appealing to do so. The agent would know that the kitchen that was in there at the time of purchase wasn’t a very good one. Of course, that advice would also be based on the client’s current financial position and life plans. By the way, isn’t it a good time to think about getting a country house in Croatia? We’ve already found a nice place for you.”
Doesn’t that sort of meddling take things a bit too far?
“It’s a development. If we would have known ten years ago about all those cameras and microphones following us all the time – our smartphones, smart watches, intelligent cameras, tablets, laptops – and that the information generated by those devices would be collected and processed by quoted American companies, and that the insights into our private lives gained from that information would be used to direct our thoughts with all the advertisements being thrown at us every day… Or that we would be looking for estate agent A on the internet, but Google would tell us to try agent B. We have devices influencing us constantly. Silicon Valley promises us a better life, but their revenue model is to show us only the things they make money from. Aside from that: what we really ought to do is learn to look past the present day. Estate agents shouldn’t just keep focusing on transactions like buying and selling houses. Renowned American studies have shown that estate agents who keep concerning themselves only with transactions like these will not be around much longer. A computer can process transactions better, quicker and cheaper than a person can. So far, the only problem has been that computers don’t have enough information about the office and living space market, but that’s only a matter of time. That means that as an estate agent, you need to get away as soon as possible from handling only transactions…”
Where would estate agents find promising opportunities?
“It means you’re going to have to invent different products and services, and that’ll lead you much more towards providing solutions to real issues. Here’s an example: just how many unoccupied buildings are there in the Netherlands right now, for sale or for rent? Why isn’t anybody using them? Why don’t estate agents set up a platform on restaurant-togo.com where people can arrange a dinner at any of the unoccupied locations, up to a few hours in advance? Step 1, pick a location. Step 2, pick the number of people and how much you want to spend. Step 3, use the platform to pick a nearby restaurant or cook and decide whether you want to take your meal to go, have it delivered or have it prepared on-site. Here’s another possibility: see if you can do something with short stay — why wasn’t AirBnB invented or imitated by estate agents using their property? An estate agent takes care of everything for the owner, including insurance, and gets, say, 50% of the proceeds. And don’t forget about reinventing trial sleeping in houses that are for sale…”
That wasn’t a very big success when insurance and mortgage company Nationale-Nederlanden organised a National Houses’ Night recently, was it?
“Yeah. Does ‘trial sleeping’ sound appealing to you? Not to me. Just call it a weekend getaway. The next morning you’ll get fresh bread rolls delivered to you from the bakery around the corner. A local ‘estate agent’ will show you around the city. That way you’re not just doing trial sleeping any more, you’re actually already making use of the property in your portfolio, and you’re networking. You’re also creating value both for the owner and for society.”
You think not enough is being done yet. But do there exist any good initiatives that are worth mentioning here?
“No. Not in the Netherlands, anyway. Internationally, yes, a few. And I have to say I thought Funda seemed very promising at first.”
“Let’s start with the good things. Funda is something estate agents themselves have created; I think that’s great. These days, innovations often come from outside the field. But if I look at Funda now, I still see the same website as three years ago. Where is the ambition? Here’s what they could be doing: suppose I’m walking around in Amsterdam. They know I’m in the market. Wouldn’t it be useful if I got a notification… ding ding, look Danny! 50 metres from here, there’s a vacant building that exactly meets your business or private wishes, and there’s someone inside who can give you a tour in 30 minutes! For that matter, why should I still have to physically go to a building for a tour? With an Oculus Rift and a Microsoft HoloLens I could explore any building from my own home. The housing industry is just behind the times. It always has been and that’s fine, but if I’m honest, it bothers me more that you’ll often still hear the same complaints when it comes to estate agents and communication: not calling back, not replying quickly to emails. Not being able to make appointments on short notice. Once a transaction has been completed, the average client never hears from their estate agent again. They’re stand-alone arrangements, rather than partnerships for life.”
Aren’t estate agents supposed to have woken up as a result of the crisis?
“Not enough. There are two groups of entrepreneurs in nearly any sector: there’s one group that’s really woken up and wants to do things differently, but they’re a minority, and there’s the other group, for whom things aren’t going badly enough. Who are too well off again. Change starts with the realisation that things need to be done differently. I don’t have a solution for the estate agency sector, but my message is that they should have the courage to experiment. Like: let’s get together with 20 agents and create something new. Or let’s hire a group of teenagers to see what kinds of new ideas that would bring us. Let’s make a plan and just give it a try. Estate agents need to invest in IT, they need to recruit creativity and reinvent the wheel. That’s not easy in a market that’s been the same way for a very long time. It’s a demanding task and I don’t think one individual agent should want to do this alone. This is something you should set out to do together. It’s not about your own future, but about that of your sector.”
So, can small estate agencies survive in this rapidly changing market?
“Compared to larger players, smaller parties are the ones who have the boon that they can make decisions on their own. They don’t need a consensus between 18 people about their budgets. They don’t need 30 signatures before something gets done. It’s especially the smaller players who get the big opportunities in a changing world.”
Where will estate agents be in ten years? And will there still be room for the over 8000 companies that concern themselves with mediation and property management?
“No. First of all, in ten years there won’t be any ‘estate agents’ any more. They’ll have become real estate experts serving all sorts of purposes: flexiworking, renting, buying, selling, furnishing, value increasing, better negotiation, better interior decoration, nicer living, nicer lives. The agents won’t have to do all of these things themselves, but they do need to have them on offer. The estate agent will be the one you’d contact for these things. They’ll become more of a sort of ‘Chief Housing Officer’. I also think there will be less of them, considering all of today’s technological developments. In the past, an estate agent had to invest much more time in order to find out what they needed to know. That’s all a lot faster now, thanks to the progress of technology.”