New Zealand Property Tech, Transitioning from Tech to Practicing Real Estate: An Interview with Alistair Helm
Alistair Helm has been a longtime property tech thought leader based out of New Zealand, with a deep resume that includes Properazzi, manning the helm at both Property Portal Watch and Realestate.co.nz, and head of product at Trade Me. We traded emails recently, and I learned he was working on getting his real estate license. I wanted to learn more, so conducted a short interview. Let’s get to it…
1. After more than a decade in the property portal space, you’re getting your real estate license in New Zealand — why? What’s been the most surprising part of that process?
Yes – in someways it seems very natural to practice real estate after all these years, and in other ways somewhat odd. I love the digital world and the property portal space, but I guess having been a part of building the two big players in the property portal space in NZ over a 10 year period there was not much space left for me to fill. Add to this, the fact that I am not someone that enjoys bureaucracy and process management in large organisations, I love the flexibility and agility of growing businesses and these two portals have become large and somewhat corporatised.
So I thought – what do I want to do that is still in real estate but that suits my age and future life? – I could try and start something new, as in a new real estate company shaking things up – some industry friends have encouraged me to start a whole new real estate business which whilst appealing, is probably not the best idea at this time after all I have never sat on ’that side of the table’, as an agent. So this has in someways lead me to actually enter this industry as an agent. I feel the need to practice the role so as to be in a better place to decide in a couple of years as to whether I try and start up a new real estate business that challenges the incumbents or whether I decide that actually being a real estate agent is a good place and financially rewarding. I happen to live in one of the most beautiful suburbs in Auckland, and where better to practice as an agent that in my neighbourhood?
I back myself to implement all the educational ideas that I have shared with agents across NZ over the past decade as to how to build a personal brand online and deliver prospects that find you rather than you finding them – that is my challenge.
I have completed my training which in NZ is a formal qualification administered by our Educational Standards organisation – it is a course that in full time study requires 3 months of work, I have done it part-time which has taken my 6 months. I have been amazed at how it has changed, I did complete the course back in 2005 when it was so very different, in those days the course lasted 2 weeks of half days and one single test at the end of the course – it was hard to fail! That has been the most surprising thing, just how high the bar has been raised by the new legislation that was introduced in 2008 which tightened up the whole industry and brought in a government authority to administer, police and certify the industry.
2. You’ve been covering the property tech space for many years, what trend or product are you most excited about over the next 12-24 months?
I have long considered the statement that ‘The disruptive tech that you think will impact the next few years, actually doesn’t or ends up taking much longer, and equally those things you think are pipe dreams actually come to market far faster and have more impact” – so with that as a primer here is my take.
I don’t believe the heart of real estate will change or be disrupted by new online only solutions (UK based initiatives – such as Purple Bricks etc), they will have a place but sub 10% of market, just as FSBO has always had a place. The big winners I see as the likes of Redfin (of which I have always been bullish and hugely respectful), to them I now add Compass, not for the tech, in my opinion their tech component is vapour ware, but for the PR and brand presence and rockstar operators they are employing – there is more to my comments and whilst not teasing a future Properazzi post I see Compass peaking soon but Redfin enduring.
The real tech play for me is OpenDoor and its competitors but again this operation will never be mainstream and will only work in the US to any scale, due to the archaic property records systems. In NZ by comparison the closing process takes literally minutes due to a fully digitised system that has been in operation for 10 years. OpenDoor meets a need and will succeed in specific markets at specific price points where homogeneity of property allows for incredibly accurate estimation of valuation and regular turnover. It will not scale more broadly, but undoubtedly efficiency of operation will create a very valuable business and a great customer experience.
My view of what I see as a significant game changer in respect of tech’s impact on this industry lies in the power of AI leveraged by Google or Amazon. The platform is the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, the threat is to Zillow in the case of the US / Rightmove & Zoopla in the case of the UK / REA & Domain the case of Australia and I could go on. The fact is property portals are vulnerable as they are but intermediaries and liable to disintermediation. Suffice to say (no pun intended) but a prospective buyer could ‘ask’ “hey Google” or “hey Alexa” are there any properties available for me to buy in Oak Hills, Portland. The results would be projected on a screen, any screen – TV or tablet directly sourced from MLS data or in non US markets the aggregation of agent listings online, the parsing of the phrase “available for me to buy” would use AI to establish capability of the consumer to buy and budget criteria. In this scenario, where is Zillow’s future or that of the other portals? – people are very close to trusting Google / Amazon. As to monetisation of this service – lead generation fees plus finance opportunities (think Amazon finance) will be the honey of attraction for Google/Amazon. Again more of this idea and proposition is a future Properazzi post.
3. What’s your most significant business focus for 2018?
My focus is to achieve my success in practicing real estate as an agent. I have a clear objective that within 3 years I will be the #1 agent in my hyper local areas of Devonport with a 15% share of the local market. To do this I will build my brand through a combination of digital platforms. Properazzi is the platform that establishes me as a property analyst and commentator on the market and the real estate industry, it gives me a media platform and online presence that is contextual to real estate at a high credible level. To this I am establishing myself as a unique and trusted expert in the hyperlocal property market of Devonport in which I am going to be starting work as a local agent, to support this I am launching a dedicated local property market website (www.devonportproperty.nz) – this will be a unique commentary and deep-data driven insight into the trends in the local market that will establish my brand as the agent in the market with the best insight into property trends. Added to this naturally I will have my own personal agent website which will be purely about me, my skills, capability, experience and personality – www.alistairhelm.co.nz – will be live when I get my license which should be by the end of March.