They are the visionaries, the forward-thinking, the stubborn, the obsessed, the tech-savvy, the creative minds always pushing boundaries. They are entrepreneurs pushing the old ways aside, data scientists discovering new ways to examine behavior, marketers inventing new ways to showcase properties, agents developing new ways to reach clients, companies building new technologies, brokerages creating whole new ways of doing business. They are the Inman Innovator Finalists, and they’re leading us into the future of real estate.
He’s an entrepreneur who made himself into a media brand. She’s an agent who landed a $20 million listing after just a year in the business. It’s a company that developed an augmented-reality tool to show prospective buyers what an interior-decorated home might look like — during a showing, on their phones. They’re all finalists.
“We are honored to celebrate so much creativity and invention,” said Inman publisher Brad Inman. “Never in the history of the Innovator Awards has there been so much innovation and, therefore, never has our list of finalists been so large — these are exciting times.”
This is our 4th nomination for an Inman Innovator Award and we are truly thrilled, said, “Raj Qsar,” Founder & Owner of The Boutique Real Estate Group. What we are doing is truly impacting real estate on a global scale and helping our agents and clients succeed.
Who will win? The 2017 Inman Innovators will be revealed at Inman Connect in San Francisco the week of August 7-11, 2017, followed by the not-to-be-missed party that’ll wrap up Inman Connect San Francisco and celebrate the Inman Innovators.
June 6th, 2017 – Raj Qsar, owner/principal of The Boutique Real Estate Group in Orange County, California shares his unique journey into the real estate profession. Unique is an appropriate term, as no other guest has traveled the path Raj details. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so tune into Episode 97 of The Real Estate Sessions and enjoy.
This year’s competition was steep. Brokerages, firms and coaches all came out swinging in hopes to be recognized as a 2016 nominee and ultimately the winner for social media.
Let’s walk you through the criteria.
These days, it’s easy for anyone to hop onto a social media platform, create an account and post their lives away. It’s these special few that are able to keep their growing audience engaged by dishing out valuable, share-worthy content.
Let’s have a closer look at the criteria we used to shortlist our nominees.
Someone that knows their way around social media knows how to expand their reach through their social media presence.
Are they active on multiple social media channels?
Here’s a brokerage that just gets it. The Boutique RE Group makes an effort to use their social media marketing to its full potential – posting beautiful photos, high-quality videos and selling a luxury lifestyle through their content. Let’s not overlook their hashtag game. Boutique RE Group makes great use of hashtags on each one of their listing photos to increase exposure of the neighborhoods of their listings.
“I can do anything I want standing in line at Starbucks if it has to do with a real estate transaction,” said Raj Qsar, owner of The Boutique Real Estate Group. “Contracts, social media, technology.”
“I can do anything I want standing in line at Starbucks if it has to do with a real estate…”
Qsar referred to the current MLS as archaic in its ways of communicating directly with clients. The process of logging in and checking messages only through the MLS portal became a tether, he says, prohibiting engagement. With RealScout, agents are notified immediately of interested parties.
What is RealScout to the buyer?
How it benefits different offices depends on the location. For Los Angeles, and more specifically The Boutique Real Estate Group, the criteria chosen caters to the demographic. In learning what buyers are looking for, RealScout is able to build a profile and inform them of other homes that offer similar amenities.
Once buyers find what they are looking for, they are then able to narrow down the search through the criteria: high ceilings, floor plans, and other details unique to each buyer. This information is also passed along to the agent, helping them secure the relationship.
“The common use cases are when the agent invites the client to use RealScout,” Andrew Flachner, president, and co-founder of RealScout, said. Another entryway is through Zillow, which Qsar said has a direct impact on building a relationship.
Through API integration with Zillow, buyers can connect directly with agents. If during the search they click on a page featuring The Boutique Real Estate Group, users are automatically entered into the agency’s RealScout database and begin receiving notifications according to their search criteria.
What is RealScout to the agent?
Converting leads from online sources is not easy. It’s hard enough getting your face and name seen, much less turning someone’s query into a sale. Through the buyer notifications, which are property listings based on prioritized criteria, RealScout helps to bridge the trust between agent and client.
“They can count on the info from RealScout and your happy, smiling face is what they’ve seen all the time,” said Erica Boisvert, realtor and operations manager at Boutique. “You’ve already got that trust.”
Flachner, who used to be a real estate agent, said that RealScout was developed out of necessity. When he was showing houses, he says his clients wouldn’t demand something like an exact square footage number because they are not robots. Instead, they describe how a cul-de-sac would be a safe place or how a backyard for the kids would nice, which is the criteria that he wanted to implement in RealScout.
“I wanted software that emulated what a good real estate agent is and helps me, almost like a superpower,” Flachner said.
The criteria for each location is different. Flachner said he has come across a buyer searching for a beachfront property that was able to see the surf break, which is not a common criterion in Seattle. Instead, criteria there features options for vicinity to Microsoft’s bus station.
“The answer is, agents, helped us form these criteria,” he said. “We don’t normalize across the country.”
The push towards the high-tech agent is expanding the gap between the great agents and the good agents. I see the best companies hiring technology specialists to assist with clients, listings and marketing.
I also see the rise of marketing automation, to stay in touch with people, generate new leads and respond to property inquiries. More agents in 2016 are getting into the tech trends to improve agent websites, capture leads through apps, ads and websites, and to tell the story and capture the emotions of buyers in property websites.
We at The Boutique Real Estate Group pride ourselves on staying in front of the tech curve.
What big tech trends are you watching?
I’m personally moving marketing dollars around from the typical Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com spending, and moving it into Adwerx, Google Adwords and lead-generating sites such as “get your home value” or localized sites to target specific neighborhoods.
I use apps like MLS-Touch to give my buyers and sellers the most up to date information when we’re out in the field, and I really like what RESAAS is doing to connect agents all around the world through a social site similar to Facebook. I’m involved in several groups in the RESAAS network including referral groups and brainstorming panels for marketing and tech trends.
What is more important: mobile or cloud?
I think mobile is still more important for my clients, but the cloud is more important for the doc-sharing and collaborating inside of our real estate firm. In my world, they are both critical to growing my business.
I use an iPhone 6 Plus, and I love being able to share my incredible property videos and websites with clients. Here’s an example:www.4582OceanRidge.com.
Today, I use my mobile device to type more emails than I do my computer. Being able to be out with my clients or out being social is critical to me growing my business, so I don’t like to be at a computer for more than a couple of hours a day.
I also use mobile apps like Docusign mobile, zipForms mobile, the Google Drive app and the Dropbox app.
Will the tech bubble burst?
No, I don’t think so. It’s not a bubble. Today, the tech world doesn’t have a ceiling or an end in sight.
What is next for Zillow?
Is it taking over the world? No, just kidding.
Zillow has become this online real estate listing giant. I saw that its agreement with ListHub has come to an end, so it’s going to have to develop new relationships with individual MLSs and individual brokers.
Just like everyone else, Zillow has to continue to reinvent itself, or it will get lost in the dust. Individual agents and brokers are creating their own search sites, and I think that will take away from the major portal sites.
Will the Broker Public Portal be launched in 2016?
It looks like its close to happening. Broker Public Portal LLC, is working on coming up with the data license agreement with MLSs. I like the idea of being able to brand the MLS experience for clients.
Will Upstream be launched in 2016?
Yes, it looks likes NAR and Upstream are working through the details now. It’s about time that technology jumps into our MLS system to streamline data entry and help autopopulate forms. We use the CRMLS system, which is getting better, but going into other MLS systems can be quite the time-waster for a busy agent.
Hopefully, Upstream will help to streamline record keeping and data entry.
How will predictive search change homebuying?
I think predictive search will help agents key in on the specific locations and needs for their clients. When buying a home, there are so many factors such as location, size of house, school districts, traffic and freeways, shopping, crime rate, local hobbies, etc. I think buyers will have a better idea of where they want to search for a house and this will save time for both the buyer and the agent. I’ve worked with some buyers that know what they want, and others that are relocating and want to see 10+ cities, to narrow things down.
Will on-demand showings go mainstream?
I think on-demand is a great backup plan if time is limited…but I believe that you can’t replace a good, seasoned agent with a randomly chosen agent. Buyer’s agents constantly complain about losing clients to other agents, or buyers not being loyal. I think building a relationship and trust with your buyer is critical, and I haven’t lost many buyers over the 12-plus years that I’ve been in real estate.
It’s not all about locating the house and moving right in. A seasoned agent can negotiate price, repairs and many important details of a buyers transaction.
Will the automated offer become reality in 2016?
I don’t think the automated offer will become a reality. Some sites claim that they help cherry-pick the best real estate bargains and submit offers for their clients. I don’t think it’s smart, and I don’t like the idea of automated offers.
A seller and a buyer need an agent who works specifically with their best interest in mind, and automating offers doesn’t sound like a good way to accomplish that. Buying a house isn’t a small investment, so I feel that a lot of time should be spent with a trusted and respected Realtor.
Will Closing in a Box happen in 2016?
Closing in a Box is a great idea. We already offer all of these items to our clients, and my amazing transaction coordinator keeps my files neat and orderly. Having all of these functions in one app or website is a great idea, though.
How will machine learning change real estate?
Machine learning will help agents and loan officers see which people are likely to buy or sell. It will cut down on time and save a lot of marketing money.
We have a couple systems that show us trends, such as ReboGateway, but one of our lenders at Primary Residential Mortgage has created a system that has really helped my business.
The Boutique Real Estate Group is expanding! And we are SUPER excited! We are looking for an amazing individual to fill our Matchmaker position. If you are looking for that next bold move or know someone who would be perfect then please email us your Resume, CV and headshot to info@TheBoutiqueRE.com and we will be in touch. We LOVE it here and YOU will too…
“If you follow us around any real estate trade show, we spend a lot of time talking to vendors about their products. We constantly research better tools and technology to help us better serve clients. Our favorite part is taking a new listing that’s a little ugly and making it look amazing. That’s something we do really well.” THE MARKET – Many of The Boutique’s Orange County clients fall into the luxury market, but every client deserves luxury service and marketing. THE CULTURE – The Boutique spurs collaboration through technology and culture. THE MAN – “I don’t know how many hours I put in. It doesn’t feel like work. That’s one of the elements I’ve always enjoyed.”
The Boutique invests heavily in telling the story of every home, believing beautiful design evokes a connection between client, agent, and the home-buying process. The Boutique focuses on providing best-in-class service through a combination of great habits, great marketing, and bleeding-edge technology. Incredible service and marketing are key ingredients in the success of The Boutique. And a large amount of credit belongs to technology and systems that support: Convenience – “If you give clients a choice—do the paperwork now at the house, or wait and I’ll come by tomorrow? One hundred percent of my clients say right now. And they’re not all 30 years old.” Service – “It makes your job, your agent’s job, and your client’s life easier. You’ll never hear me say to a client, I don’t have that right now. When I’m at my office again, I’ll get back to you.” The Customer Experience – “Emailing back and forth—that’s not a great way to send documents to my clients. DocuSign transaction sharing tools do a much better job.” ROI – “People often hire me—and I get recommended to people—because the technology that we use makes the experience a lot easier.”
68% OF AGENTS PREDICT TRANSACTIONS WILL BECOME ENTIRELY MOBILE (BUT ONLY 61% OF THEIR BROKERAGES PROVIDE MOBILE TRANSACTION MANAGEMENT).
“If you’re not willing to invest in your business there’s plenty of your competitors out there that will.”
Top 4 Reasons to LOVE DocuSign
1. LEVEL OF SERVICE: “We just believe clients want what they want when they ask for it. So, if I have the ability to answer the phone and take their question, I should probably have access to a tool that allows me to find their answer or expedite a document right there on the spot.”
2. THE CLIENT EXPERIENCE: “I do everything possible to be accommodating and make the transaction smooth for my clients. That’s really the role that DocuSign plays. The Transaction Rooms collaboration tools and transparency make it easy and convenient for clients.”
3. THE AGENT EXPERIENCE: “DocuSign makes it easy for agents to do their job from anywhere, at anytime. If a broker is not focused on providing agents with convenient tools that help them be more productive—that’s a great way to lose them.”
4. LIABILITY: “Because DocuSign lets the broker manage the transaction from the back end, you’ve got the compliance issue covered.”
On January 1, 2013, Raj Qsar launched his great experiment: a brokerage that eschews more traditional real estate methods in favor of a new and creative marketing approach. The Boutique Real Estate Group began its journey on that first day of 2013 with three agents, a creative director, a social media manager and an office manager — and it’s taking southern California real estate to a new level. The experiment worked.
Raj Qsar is the principal and owner of The Boutique Real Estate Group and a 10-year veteran of real estate sales and marketing. Raj shared his vision of the Boutique with me, and it’s a compelling story of the birth and growth of a real estate brokerage that tends to do things a little bit differently. It’s a story of success that provides insight into a free-thinking yet savvy group of professionals who, in Raj’s own words, have formed “a technology company that is super-passionate about creative design. And oh, by the way, sells real estate as well.”
I wanted to tell a story
Ask the people who know Raj and The Boutique to describe what sets them apart, and you are likely to hear “video.”
That seemed a good place to start my discussion with Raj, so I simply asked, “why video?”
Instead of the expected responses — “Video is the future!” or “Real estate is visual, it lends itself to video” — what I heard was, “I wanted to tell the homeowner’s story. A story not just about the home, but about the neighborhood and why they loved living there.”
Raj found a wedding videographer who took a narrative approach to his work: Instead of taking the standard pictures of bride, groom and wedding party, the videographer was telling the story of the couple. Believing that this style could translate to real estate, Raj contacted him and said, “I want you to tell a story. A story about a house.”
“What do you mean, a story about a house?”
This was in 2009, before video was a buzzword, before video was cool. Real estate “video” at that time typically consisted of a fancy slideshow: still images pieced together using zoom effects, with pleasant music playing in the background.
“That’s not video, that’s pictures stitched together to appear video-like. It’s fake video,” Raj told me.
Raj was at a listing presentation for an expired property. It had languished on the market for nine months with only five showings and no offers. Raj pitched the idea of a “real life” video to the sellers, one that would focus on why the sellers had lived in and loved this home for so many years. It would highlight not only the home, but also weave the community and local businesses into its story line. They loved the idea.
Raj walked away with the listing and a promise to create a new kind of video.
There was one problem: he had no idea how to do that. Passionate about creative design, Raj knew where to find the right people to pull this off. They storyboarded some ideas, professionally staged the home, took amazing photos, shot true video footage of the home and neighborhood, created an online marketing campaign, translated that campaign into multiple languages and set off to sell the property.
That was just the beginning.
“We are so OCD about every fine detail that we re-shot and re-edited the video several times, even going through multiple soundtracks and music choices before we went live.”
With the video complete, Raj delivered it to his sellers and asked them to share it with friends, family and neighbors. The home was in a small, tight-knit, gated neighborhood, and the owners shared the video with their Bunko group — which included about 70 of the neighborhood’s 100 homeowners.
Raj is proud of the fact that they took that listing and got an over-list price offer in two weeks.
But he’s prouder of the fact that the video was so well received that over the next three years, they listed 13 homes in that subdivision, setting price records almost every time.
The owners loved the video. They shared it with other homeowners who loved it. It was high quality, it was memorable, and it made the phone ring when people were looking to sell.
In case you think this reception of a property video was just dumb luck, there are other similar stories. A condo association played a video produced by Jeremy Lehman, The Boutique’s CTO, at their board meeting because it highlighted the neighborhood so well. A couple of the board members were considering selling their homes. Who do you think they called? The Boutique group has now listed 15 of those condos.
The video brokerage
Raj considers video a catapult to get in front of sellers. While a video may not sell a home directly, the quality and effort Raj’s brokerage puts into video sets them apart from the masses. It identifies them. They are now locally (and I would argue, nationally) thought of as “the video brokerage.”
As time marched on, Raj took video production in-house. He bought the equipment and brought in experts, lowering the production cost and allowing them to shoot videos on about half of their listings. If there is a story to tell, they will tell it in multiple formats, across multiple platforms, including video.
But Raj stresses that it’s not just video. When The Boutique takes a listing it usually spends about three weeks getting it ready before submitting it to the MLS.
At this point in the conversation, I stopped Raj and said, “Three weeks? Who takes three weeks to get a home in the MLS?”
“We do,” said Raj. They storyboard the property and neighborhood, professionally stage the home, hire select professional photographers, process and edit those photos, shoot and edit video, create a 90-day content calendar that maps out how the listing will be promoted on various social and listing syndication sites and discuss how will they share the home’s story. Then, and only then, is the property ready for the MLS and their marketing push.
The first hire
Ask most fledgling brokers or team leaders about their first hire and they will probably say they brought in a transaction coordinator, buyer’s agent or office manager. In fact, every person I’ve talked to who built their own team or brokerage started by hiring one of those people.
Until I talked to Raj, that is: His first hire was a creative director.
Their graphic designer on staff — on staff, not contracted out — is degreed. “It’s not like we are using the broker’s assistant’s cousin who just graduated from junior college to do our design work,” said Raj.
That attitude defines Raj and The Boutique. He wants the best, and only the best, for his brokerage, his agents and his clients.
This tenet is reflected in part by their technology standards: The Boutique is Apple-based, and all agents must be on Apple products. No agents design their own marketing material; it all goes through the in-house creative designer, and everything goes through the videographer. They have three preferred listing photographers, and those are the only three that agents can use. Before even going into the home, however, it is staged by their in-house stager. Why so much quality control? Raj said, “We make our agents do these things because we know they work, and they give our clients and agents the best chance of success.”
On lead generation
Pretty pictures are nice, but ultimately you need leads. I asked Raj about his strategies for lead generation and listing syndication.
Raj said they are on all of the major platforms: Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and Homes.com. “By far and away we’ve seen the most benefit from Zillow. The quality of leads and amount of leads that come in from Zillow is superior to the rest. Our rep makes a big difference too. He’s a partner with us.”
One of the first things The Boutique does when they get a new agent is have them sign up for the “pro” level on all the major search sites. This ensures agent buy-in and facilitates lead management and consistency.
“Speed of response to Internet leads is critical,” Raj informs us. “We used to route leads to agents on a round-robin basis. As we got more sophisticated, and realized that if you don’t reply to a lead in two minutes that you’ve lost it, we brought in an in-house lead incubator whose job is to qualify and curate contacts.” The Boutique generated 3,600 inbound leads in 2014 though portal advertising and in-house lead generation efforts. Staffing a lead incubator position has freed up Raj’s agents and shifted them from receiving brokerage leads to receiving appointments.
There is no Plan B
Talk to Raj for two minutes about real estate and you will see that he is a very passionate man with a strong focus on creative design. This comes through not only in his listings, but in his philosophy on running a brokerage.
“It’s all about the consumer and their experience. We are hired to sell a property, but a property isn’t just bricks and mortar and walls. Every home has a story and if we tell that story well, we can create an emotional response — and when a buyer is emotionally involved in the story, they are more likely to purchase.”
How does that vision scale? Can it scale? What are Raj’s future plans for The Boutique Real Estate Group?
“I’d like to open another five offices in southern California in the next five years,” Raj told me.
“What about expanding outside of SoCal?” I asked.
“I get those calls about once a month. Some big-box brokerage or franchise will approach me about expanding. We love what we do. We hustle, we sell a home and we reinvest than back into the business. We add to our knowledge and technology. I have no Plan B. This is what we love, this is what we do.”
Video marketing in action
The Boutique Real Estate Group is known as “the video brokerage,” so we’d be remiss if we didn’t include some sample videos.
“It’s not all about the price point,” Raj tells us. “Yes, we are focusing on the luxury market by providing luxury services to our agents and clients. These services are what truly set us apart. We respect where our industry has been but we are pushing the envelope and going in a whole new direction — and we are just getting started.”
Visit The Boutique’s YouTube Channel to see how they market their listings — and their brokerage.
Here is a recent listing video that exemplifies The Boutique’s philosophy of storytelling.
And here is a video for a magnificent luxury estate in Hawaii. The Boutique Real Estate Group was brought on as a co-lister for this property due to their skill and expertise in social media, video and creative design.
No points for tweeting, schmoozing or defending the status quo
In 1982, the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) was introduced which in effect, launched the Internet. Nothing has done more to transform culture, the economy and real estate in the last three decades. In honor of the 33rd anniversary, we are recognizing 33 people who are changing or will change the real estate industry in 2015 and beyond. No points for tweeting, schmoozing or maintaining the status quo; this list includes only those who are poised to change the industry and are taking actions to do so.