The Future of Real Estate with Kevin Van Eck
For this installment of the Future of Real Estate series on the Union Street Media YouTube channel, Rachel Allard, Senior Vice President of Strategy, chatted with Kevin Van Eck, EVP of Innovation and Education at @properties. @properties is a leader in innovation and has the number one market share in Illinois, as well as Chicago. Click the video above to watch the full interview.
Kevin Van Eck moved into the real estate industry in 2007 after working in hospitality. He says that he saw the economic downturn coming, looking back Van Eck says “I feel grateful for the decision I made but at the time it was very scary because getting into real estate in ‘07 was not the smartest idea if you were to look at it on paper. But, I saw an opportunity.”
Van Eck also notes that he had some people around him that were pretty skeptical. “Anytime there’s a crash there is always a rebound, there’s an opportunity.” He admits that “the rebound didn’t come so quickly then,” but goes on to add that he learned how to run a successful business as an agent during that time.
Van Eck went on to join @properties as a broker in 2008 before transitioning into managing the Goose Island office in 2012 – the largest office in Illinois. Goose Island was a $1.2 billion office at the time with nearly 400 agents. Van Eck says that being a broker first “certainly helped me manage an office and help agents grow because I understood what agents go through.” Because of his experience, he says he’s able to build tools that are going to help agents sell the most real estate possible.
Van Eck’s title really reflects the value that @properteis provides through training and coaching as well as determining what tech they buy or build and helping the company as a whole grow through recruiting and internal agent growth. Van Eck also notes that he works closely with the marketing team.
When asked about how @properties was affected by the pandemic, Van Eck explains that he feels they had a lot of tools in place already, that they needed to be successful this year. Because of the tech they’ve built, namely pl@tform, agents are easily able to work remotely.
“The big shift has really been training and coaching, and to that point, training and coaching really leads to company culture and so I think that’s been one of the biggest challenges,” says Van Eck, adding that when you don’t have people in the office, folks can really start to feel like they’re on an island and that’s something they’ve really been focusing on at @properties. One example of how Van Eck is working to help agents feel more connected is through video content.
“Be careful what you start because you have to finish it.”
– Kevin Van Eck
At the end of March, Van Eck and others started a daily live show at 6:30 am to put out to agents to help them feel more connected. The feedback they’ve gotten was that it kept agents from feeling paralyzed by what’s going on around them. “It was a challenge, but it was a lot of fun because we were able to interact and connect with agents.” After 60 or so episodes, they have transitioned from a daily show to a weekly show with guests and it’s no longer live. They have also been doing virtual sales and office meetings.
Van Eck goes on to say that in order to avoid Zoom burnout while training, they’ve really focused on building content that is really powerful and valuable with takeaways agents can use right away so they don’t feel they need to sit through a 90-minute Zoom to learn something.
Expanding upon the use of technology, Van Eck also touches on how the real estate industry interacts with technology. Van Eck believes there are 2 main types of technology being leveraged: consumer-facing technology and the agent and brokerage side of technology. He notes that a lot of times what is missed as an agency is that you only focus on one of those and that “consumers don’t care if their agent has a CRM.”
Being able to bring clarity to the buying or selling experience is something Van Eck says @properties is looking to expand into. In addition to bringing clarity, Van Eck also touches on the importance of extending and maintaining the relationship between an agent and their client outside of the transaction by helping them with homeownership, the “easiest way to do that is reducing the cost of homeownership,” says Van Eck. He continues on to note that focusing on efforts that put things in place so that @properties can extend that client relationship is really important.
Van Eck sites a Harris research study that “showed that consumers do want to one-stop-shop.” More and more people want to go to one store to get everything and the same is true for real estate. If you can offer a way for a buyer or seller to access things like financial resources, then you can become that one-stop-shop. An example of this is title and mortgage. Brokerages have had in-house title and mortgage for a long time, but it’s not always leveraged in the best way. It’s not enough to offer the service, you really need to leverage it to provide the most value for the client.
“Technology has been in real estate for a long time, it’s just that recently there are players that have done a great job of marketing and talking about it. It was a wake-up call.”
– Kevin Van Eck
There are a lot of choices when it comes to tech which leaves a lot of room to make bad decisions. “You might buy something because it’s cool, but is it really impacting the agent’s life or business?” Van Eck asks.
When Van Eck first came to @properties, there were 400 agents and they now have around 3,000 employees. Van Eck concedes that it’s easier to roll things out to 400 agents than it is to roll something out to 3,000 agents across multiple states. “We need adoption, otherwise the value isn’t there.”
When rolling out a new piece of technology or a new tool, the first step at @properties is to make sure that leadership understands what the technology/tool is and that they are able to communicate what the value is. They then roll it out to, what Van Eck refers to as, their “super users” who will become the spokespeople within the company. Once those users are trained and understand the product, then it gets rolled out either companywide simultaneously or they stage it out in regions to make distribution easier.
“All of our staff are trained on all of our tools,” says Van Eck, which means that whoever an agent goes to, they will be able to have their question answered – at least at a basic level. Van Eck stresses that you have to be able to explain the what, how, and why it’s going to impact their business – “the ‘what’s in it for me’ is probably the biggest key.” You need to be able to explain why an agent would take the time to learn.
@properties also understands the importance of continuing to iterate on the technology they are using. Through a feedback button as well as a suggestion box, agents and staff are able to request new features or updates. This feedback is sent to all the people that can affect change at the company. They receive feedback multiple times a day and he says that’s how they have been able to improve their tools, such as pl@tform, which has been around since 2006. Van Eck says a lot of time they’ll get a request from an agent and it will be done in hours.
“The key is growth for us, always.”
– Kevin Van Eck
While @properties does look at metrics, Van Eck says “a lof times it’s seizing the opportunity when it comes.” They go where the opportunity exists. “We don’t plan out at the beginning of the year how many offices we’re going to open,” or what neighborhoods or regions they’re going to move into, it happens when agents ask for them. Van Eck says that their growth as a company has been entirely organic and that they’ve never acquired a company in the midwest, rather they have agents who reach out and ask them to come to the area.
Van Eck also explains @properties’ ability to take risks and the willingness to take risks, citing how when everyone else is buckling down and reducing spend during an economic downturn, @properties has hired and opened new offices.
You can learn more about Kevin Van Eck and @proeprties on their website at atproperties.com.
To view more of our Future of Real Estate Series, subscribe to the Union Street Media YouTube channel.