DocuSign innovators discuss how digital transformation will help you close faster than the competition
Independent experts and real estate brokerages around the country agree: getting rid of paper and going digital is a win-win for savings and earning power. Not only can it save time, storage and supply costs, it empowers agents and engages clients from lead to deed.
Unsatisfied with dominating e-signatures, DocuSign for Real Estate is leading a new era within the industry, forging a path to take the entire home transaction process online by utilizing DocuSign Transaction Rooms as a one-stop hub for everything from entering leads to cutting a commission check.
This transformation isn’t just cutting out paper — it’s all connected.
Few know how to implement digital integration better than the guys who helped invent it, so Inman sat down with DocuSign Vice President of Product Glenn Shimkus and Vice President and General Manager of Global Real Estate Solutions Georg Gerstenfeld to find out how Transaction Rooms have been able to move the real estate transaction online and how brokerages can take full advantage of its benefits.
Consumers are used to immediate satisfaction thanks to services like Amazon and Uber. How do you achieve a similar level of digital satisfaction in a complicated transaction process like buying or selling a home?
Shimkus: If I wanted to buy a Star Wars action figure 15 years ago, I’d go to Ebay and find a seller. Then I’d have to use PayPal to pay for it. The seller would get notification after I’ve paid, and then needed a FedEx or UPS account to ship it. All for a Star Wars figure.
Fast-forward to today on Amazon and one-click purchase. I can literally click a button and it knows where to ship the action figure, has my credit cards on record, sends shipping information and gets the notifications sent out. All I had to do was press one button.
I’m not insinuating that we’ll have a one-click process to purchase a home, but it highlights the notion that we used to need all these different tools, accounts and steps in order to accomplish one purchase.
It’s very similar to what we’re doing in real estate. Again, not with a one-click purchase — but there are so many components and tools involved in a real estate transaction. We believe DocuSign is leading the industry in bringing those pieces together so that DocuSign Transaction Rooms become that hub through which all of the transaction flows.
What are some critical factors that will shape the way digital transformation is adopted throughout the real estate industry?
Gerstenfeld: The emphasis of the lead-to-close story is keeping agents at the center of the transaction. I think of it in three big pockets: people, processes and systems.
There are a lot of people involved in a real estate transaction: agents, buyers and sellers, home inspectors, mortgage and loan officers, notaries and settlement agents – it’s just a ton of people. And those people don’t have a single platform or environment in which they can collaborate, share documents and work together.
So how do all these people work together and collaborate more efficiently?
Then, there’s the purchase process, which has major processes and lots of subprocesses under them. First you find a lead, then you’ve got go through the listing agreement, then the offer and the contract – and that’s all just the core residential agent/broker part of the transaction. There’s also mortgage/financing piece and settlement — and, ultimately, you’ve got to get it recorded in accounting. It gets really complicated and non-linear, with multiple drafts that get sent back and forth.
Finally, you’ve got all of these systems. I’ve heard that agents and brokers have as many as 20 applications, between something as simple as Gmail or e-signatures, a CRM, marketing platform and system after system.
Real estate has been missing a centralized place where the entire transaction can be managed. A place where agents can collaborate with everyone in the transaction and integrate all of their systems to manage data and documents more easily.
Shimkus: Buying a home is one of the most expensive transactions most people make. And in that transaction, there are a lot of parties involved and sensitive information shared.
Our goal is to put those concerns to rest by showing people that DocuSign is the gold standard for trust and security. We’re going to protect them and their information.
How do you coordinate all of those processes?
Shimkus: Brokerages have to deal with a customer relationship management (CRM) system, transaction management system, form system, e-signature system, accounting system and more.
Keying information into those different systems and forms is friction. The more you have to re-do stuff and it’s not shared and passed through, the more friction you have.
That’s where the API code comes in. APIs are like a network of pipes allowing data to flow from different softwares into the same hub. And we want to be a hub from lead all the way to closing — not just to contract. That means we need to be great at integrations, offer an industry-leading API and support data standards.
For example, by logging in to just one product in Transaction Rooms, you can use DocuSign signatures, access cloud storage, access ZipForms, send transaction data to your accounting system and manage your compliance. You can do all of that without having to log in into anything but Transaction Rooms.
Gerstenfeld: From the moment an agent generates a lead to the moment the deed is recorded, everything happens in a seamless experience. When you’re working with these different systems, the systems are working together.
Our Transaction Rooms product, which is the central data hub, creates a collaborative environment to bring all of the people involved in this transaction together. It’s integrated with our e-signature product, a mortgage product for digital closing, and we’ve built API connections into all the other software applications.
Through e-signature and mortgage closing, you can manage the entire transaction electronically without changing your MLS or title software providers, because we have these API connections to link those different systems. You don’t have to change the software you already use, other than making sure you’re using Transaction Rooms, because we’ll work to integrate those to give you that lead-to-close experience.
How do agents become more efficient for the brokerage by going digital?
Shimkus: Agents are always on – I’m married to one. They don’t have a nine-to-five work schedule; they’re picking up calls on Tuesday nights or Sunday afternoons.
But they also have lives and families, so they’re not sitting around waiting for clients to call. They’re watching a kid’s soccer game or doing an open house.
And so part of it is just having the access wherever they are or whenever they need it. We live in an instant, “now” society, and when someone is calling an agent, an answer or result is expected immediately.
With DocuSign, people are able to get things done now and deliver on that experience in a secure environment. They’re not emailing documents; they’re inviting someone into the Transaction Room and allowing them to see information in there.
The document never leaves our system. I know security isn’t an exciting topic, until your email has been hacked and your client’s earnest money has been routed to another account. At DocuSign, we have the most secure solution on the market.
Gerstenfeld: Not having to rekey data saves a lot of mistakes. The other benefits are speed and compliance: Brokers will be able to know and see where in the timeline any particular transaction is, make sure there’s a checklist to be followed and track all of that while having everything stored in one place.
It’s much easier to find documents, and you have an audit trail of who touched the files, what they did and when they did it.
You have a lot more comfort and flexibility, plus you can see all of your documents in one place in a way you couldn’t before.
And the audit trail works for the consumer, too, because they’re going to see everything in the Transaction Room without having to keep track of paper files for themselves.
Transaction Rooms alleviate an agent’s process work so she can focus on emotional and intellectual knowledge about the client. Every agent I’ve ever worked with really adds value in the negotiation and helping clients keep their business heads and wits about them.
How much freedom do you give your clients with their transaction data?
Gerstenfeld: With DocuSign, the agent and broker own their data.
We don’t have access to or look at their data – we are not a big data company. We are not in the business of selling or marketing data. We are a conduit to help you unlock that data between your systems, but you remain in control. I think that’s a core differentiator between us and a lot of companies out there.
Do brokerages have to use software in the DocuSign partner network to go fully digital with Transaction Rooms? Can they integrate their own software?
Gerstenfeld: The simpler way is the DocuSign partner network. Our partner network has Ellie Mae, Lone Wolf, Profit Power, Homes.com, zipLogix and more – so we already have quite a few companies in the network. The idea is to have the partner network linked with everybody in the industry.
If you have a technology person at your brokerage, he or she could work with our API to integrate your software partners into Transaction Rooms. That’s very doable.
Most brokerages don’t have that resource, however, so we want to take that work out and make life simpler for the broker.
Is there a difference in training and adoption for a large brokerage or franchise, like Re/Max, compared to smaller independent brokerages?
Shimkus: The bigger you get and more enterprise-focused you are, that’s where DocuSign really shines.
Think of DocuSign like an iceberg: It’s not just the basic feature or function, or what you see “above the water line.” It’s below the water line where DocuSign excels at things like security, integrations, API capabilities, rollout and training for brokerages.
Gerstenfeld: If you’re a large brokerage, you generally have more offices with multiple checklists, tasks and forms because you’re dealing with multiple associations, so there’s more work in the setup for a big brokerage versus a small brokerage. A big brokerage will often have its own data systems.
A franchise like Re/Max, which has its own Lead Street products and Max Center intranet, may need more customization on a technology front that smaller brokerages don’t need. A bigger broker may take a longer period of time on training and rollout because there are more agents and offices to rollout over time.
But from the core of using the product every day and driving the transaction, it really works the same, whether you’re large or small. It’s the scope of the roll-out and a little bit of the customization that changes.
What are some process your clients tend to underutilize as they go fully digital?
Gerstenfeld: The customers who did this really well go all-in and are committed to it. They realize that commitment means constant training and education for their agents and constant availability to make this easier, and they have two or three subject matter experts within their company.
They will make sure that each of their offices knows the drill, and they’ll make themselves available on a weekly basis for onboarding new agents to get them completely paperless from the start.
The folks that are most successful realize this is not the sort of thing to introduce to their agents and hope it takes. They end up introducing the new features as they go, so they continually add capability to what they do.
They didn’t start paperless out of the gate: It started with an office or a couple offices, it started with part of their processes, and they moved everything else over a little bit more gradually.
This interview has been edited for clarity.