Questions for a pro: Robert Milligan and a Web brokerage model
Robert Milligan went into real estate 13 years ago, straight out of high school. While learning the business, he took college classes online and became Internet savvy. So it wasn’t a big jump to join Allison James Estates & Homes, an Internet-based real estate brokerage company with national headquarters in Punta Gorda.
The firm has been experiencing stellar growth. After just five years in business, it ranked 104th nationwide in 2012, with $1.14 billion in closed sales, up 68 percent from $662.8 million the previous year. As the Florida president and broker, Milligan is looking to expand the presence of the company in the Sunshine State.
Correspondent Chris Angermann interviewed him about the business at the office of the company’s Sarasota branch manager, Troy Funk.
Q:How did Allison James get started?
A:It was an adaptation to the way the economy changed during the downturn. We wanted to streamline the costs of operating the company, so we looked at new processes available to us with technology. Realtors aren’t making money in the office. Clients typically meet with them at the house that they’re selling or buying. There is a time and place for offices — and we have them — but we don’t have to rely on them as we used to. We found that not only was this a way to enhance to the strength of the company, but also it made for a superior experience for the Realtor and clients. The consumers don’t need an office; they want service. The idea is catching on and gaining momentum, and we’re very pleased with our track record and the path we’re on.
Q:How does it work for Realtors?
A:We pay our Realtors 100 percent commission, where a lot of traditional companies do a 70/30 split. That’s OK — they need to do it for the overhead of the company. But with us, the brick-and-mortar office expenses are not there, so we can afford to just charge a monthly fee and a per-transaction fee. Our Realtors also do their own advertising, which allows them more freedom to invest in targeted marketing, websites and services for their clients.
Q:How do the new technologies impact buyers?
A:One example is electronic signing. Recently, a woman bought a house from us. She saw it and fell in love with it. There were other interested parties, and she wanted to have the best chance to get this property under contract. The sellers were at the house, so we went to a cafe around the corner. With my laptop, I was able to prepare all of the documents there and tag electronically where she needed to sign and initial.
So while we were there sipping our tea, she reviewed the document, clicked to sign and initial; and instantly, she and the Realtor had copies of everything.
In traditional real estate, it may have required going back to the office, scanning documents and printing everything out. That process could have taken two to three days, and in the meantime, someone else might have submitted an offer. In our case, we had the house under contract in less than six hours.
Q:What about the sellers?
A:On the sellers’ side, especially in a short sale, there are always additional affidavits and addenda that need to be initialed and signed. For most sellers who don’t have printers and a fax machine, it’s a great inconvenience. They either have to come into our offices or have the document printed out and sent back to us.
With this electronic signing technology, they can just click on their email, and it gets sent back to us automatically. It makes their experience so much better. It happens fast, it’s super convenient, and there are fewer mistakes.
Q:How will this affect the relationship of buyers and sellers to Realtors?
A:Information flows better, which everyone appreciates, but I don’t think technology is going to eliminate the need for Realtors. It is changing the dynamics of the business model for a real estate company. Clients still need face-to-face relationships. Buyers still want to “kick the tires” on the house, so to speak, and see things that don’t show up in pictures.
In fact, the deluge of data and information on the Internet available for consumers — people being bombarded with Zillow price quotes, etc. — probably makes it more necessary than ever to have professionals decipher and interpret it all.