Real estate agents who expect to maintain a thriving business have just three short years to get their digital ducks in a row.

Information technology has already had a dramatic impact on what housing consumers expect from the real estate industry today, but by 2003 what buyers and sellers will expect will make their current demands a pittance.

"Real Estate Confronts The e-Consumer", (RealSure, Inc., $29.95), the latest in a trilogy (following "Real Estate Confronts Reality" and "Real Estate Confronts Technology") of real estate industry wake-up calls designed to further shake up a sleeping giant that hasn't fully awakened to technology's clarion call.

At least 41 million consumers have shopped the Internet for housing and related goods, services and information since February this year, yet nearly half of real estate agents say they get less than 5 percent of their leads online, according to "The State Of Online Real Estate 2.0" a recent study produced by Gomez.com, in conjunction with Inman News Features.

And housing consumers aren't just looking for housing related information on the Net. They are out to fill their flats and their lives with a host of related and unrelated goods and services.

Seventy-three percent of all online shoppers own their own homes, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

It's not surprising then that by 2003 one of the top consumer trends will find the spending minions demanding brokers and agents assist them with everything that touches their home ownership experience from tax assessments to wallpaper, says trilogy author Stefan Swanepoel, chairman of iProperty.com, 9keys, and the Associates Group.

Swanepoel, a world traveled real estate expert with his hands in virtually every aspect of the real estate industry -- financing, technology, management, consulting and consumer research -- says, in addition to ever increasing consumer demands, real estate industry changes in the next three years are in for a quantum leap.

Swanepoel's latest treatise offers the real estate industry a 2003 forecast of the "Top 3 Trends in Each Major Trends Category".

Consumer Trends

1. Consumers will seek out super agents and brokers, much as hotel guests seek out the concierge -- for just about everything they'll need during their stay.

2. Consumers will demand information-technology savvy agents, much as a mall shopper visits the information desk where they can find fast access to just what they want, at the best price with no wasted time.

3. Agents who provide exceptional customer service will become industry leaders.

"The consumer is not only king, he is now the king, queen, prince, princess and the entire court. Hopefully, there are not too many real estate professionals who will be ... the court jester," said Swanepoel.

Technology Trends

1. Technology won't replace agents who can navigate the technology, quickly interpret data, negotiate with skill and intuition and hand-hold clients facing the emotional stress of home buying and selling.

2. With electronic signature technology firmly entrenched, fully electronic integrated real estate transactions will become more routine.

3. More widely used telephone communications systems will integrate land and cell phones, fax, e-mail and the Web for true anywhere, anytime communications.

"Everyone is betting that high touch will still be needed with the high tech even into the year 2003 ... the prevailing thought is that high touch will be more important," Swanepoel said.

Demographic Trends

1. The number of real estate offices will continue to dwindle with more mergers, acquisitions and joint operations giving the top 5 percent 80 percent of the business.

2. The residential housing market will continue the shift toward housing older consumers as the baby boomer retirement boom grows.

3. Second homes, resort-style and adult communities will comprise a greater share of the market.

Internet Trends

1. Technology will cost jobs. The Internet will drive less productive and less savvy agents and offices out of business because of the cost to manage, control and react in new ways.

2. More buyers will purchase homes with the help of agents over the Net.

3. The Internet will provide the integrated platform through which all industry players will cooperate.

"In the year 2000, the Internet is primarily a marketing medium. By the year 2003, it will redefine how we do business," Swanepoel added.

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