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Technology, Disruptors, & Relationships with Paul Springer

December 23, 2019


I had the pleasure and honor of sitting down with one of my oldest friends and colleagues in the business, Paul Springer with Coldwell Banker Burnet in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Western Wisconsin.

Paul and I talked about the role of technology in the real estate industry and the importance of staying focused on the relationships we have with our sphere of influence no matter what.

Paul’s Links

Topics and Timing

Episode Transcript

Start of Interview

Bob Burns: One of the best parts about creating this podcast is that I get to tell some of the people that have been most impactful to my career how I really feel about them. Today is one of those moments.

Way back in the day, way back before Facebook, before YouTube, before smart phones, even before MySpace, before listing syndication with IDX, I worked as a Technology Coach, helping real estate professionals leverage technology in their business. When I first stepped into that job, the guest on today’s episode had already been doing it for years very, very successfully, and frankly, I can’t say this any more simply; a huge part of how I learned to coach, teach, and lead real estate agents came from this one individual that I’m speaking with today.

So, I’m extremely lucky to have had the chance to learn from him, and I’m super excited to be in a position to share his knowledge with everyone else listening to this podcast.

Paul Springer has had an enormous impact on my real estate career, and the career of so many other people in our industry. And the coolest thing about this is that Paul did all of this, he made all of this impact, and all this difference for so many people while still being one of the nicest kindest, and most generous individuals that you could ever meet.

A couple years ago, Paul recruited his wife Nichole to come into the business with him, and now they’re working together as a very successful real estate team.

So Paul, I’m totally stoked that you’ve agreed to come on the show. Thanks for spending some time with me!

Paul Springer: I’m very flattered. Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Bob Burns: Awesome!

So, I want to start with a story. When my wife and I sold our house and moved from Minnesota to the East Coast, we gave the listing to Paul. We moved early in the spring, and in Minnesota, the spring starts in August and ends in the middle of August. So, it was a wet spring that year. I’m not sure what happened, but long story short, the basement flooded in the house, and we were 2,000 miles away, and Paul took matters into his own hands. I guess he had to. He did more than I could have asked from any real estate agent. He totally saved the day. Did whatever it took to get the water out of the basement, and the craziest part of this whole thing is I didn’t hear a single complaint or negative word about it from Paul. He kept me informed the whole way and was super communicative, but just rolled up his sleeves and did what needed to be done.

So, my question for you Paul is, were the Burnses the worst clients you’ve ever had?

Paul Springer: Absolutely not! I remember that well because the sump pump went out in the basement, and obviously there was standing water everywhere, and it was a matter of getting in there and tearing out carpet, and it was it was a kind of over and above and beyond, but you know, I know you would have done it for me. So, I obviously, you know, didn’t hesitate in any way shape or form. So, it was my pleasure and my honor, but it was it was a soggy run there for a little bit.

Bob Burns: Have situations like that come up with other clients?

Paul Springer: Not really, no.

Bob Burns: So we are the worst clients you’ve ever had.

Paul Springer:  The worst-best.

Bob Burns: The best of the worst.

Paul Springer: Exactly. It was all good.

And then, replacing the carpet too. Because we had to having a company come in. I think you just provided your credit card, and we just got it sorted out, and it actually got it sold soon after. So, everything went fine, but it’s the things we do, you know.

Bob Burns: It’s full service, I guess.

Paul Springer: It is. It truly is.

Early Adoption of Real Estate Technology

Bob Burns: When I when I went through the intro, as I mentioned we were both technology coaches together, and when we were doing this in the early 2000s, really, the real estate business was going through major upheaval and change. W were moving from MLS books to electronic MLS databases with Radix, I think, was the name of the thing, and it was a DOS-based program, and everybody was confused. And prior to that, technology was only a thing that geeks were interested in, and our job was to be kind of like evangelists and get the rest of the world onboard.

But you got into business, as you said, way before any of this technology started. I want to know, in your real estate business, like, when did you start incorporating technology? Because it would have been way ahead of the curve.

Paul Springer: Yeah, yeah. So, I started in 1991. Our company took on some proprietary software that did allow us to mix or generate MLS information that we were able to download the data to a computer. So, 1995 is when I bought my first laptop. I think it was about $5,000 back then. It wasn’t much, but we were able to at our appointments, our open houses, as well, you know, sit down with people and say, you know, “At no obligation, if you’d like, I can plug in your wish list – your bedrooms, baths, finished square feet, et cetera…” and show them right then and there, with photos, you know, multiple photos, maps, airport overlays, all kinds of crazy stuff. So, it was really cutting-edge stuff for the time, and got a lot of appointments as a result.

So, mid 1990s was when I really, you know, got into technology. I wasn’t much of a nerdy kind of geeky, techie guy getting into it. My biggest thrill was probably the efficiency and organization part of it. Kind of, you always hear the saying, “work smarter, not harder” and that’s what kind of tripped my trigger and made me so curious about working more efficiently, and having successes as a result of that.

The Importance of Relationships

Bob Burns: I think that’s really cool, and still to this very day, you know, 25 years later, or however long it’s been, I think there’s a big trap that real estate agents fall into with technology.

Paul Springer: Absolutely.

Bob Burns: And they adopt it for the sake of adopting it, not for the sake of actually increasing their business.

Paul Springer: Yeah, it’s all about relationships. I mean, it’s belly-to-belly, kind of meeting people, being a part of your community, and just working as best you can to, again, make relationships, and build on them.

You know, looking back, we were fairly geeked-out back in the day, with all the gadgets, and all the stuff, but it’s really old-school, back to the basics stuff. It’s just meeting people, and getting raving fans, you know, to work with you, and for you, and just kind of going from there.

Bob Burns: So, technology is really a means to an end.

Paul Springer: Yeah, absolutely.

Bob Burns: And it always has been for you.

Paul Springer: Yep.

Bob Burns: And so, what I think is really interesting, and one of the things I learned from you, for sure, was being able to…it’s like that scene…remember that movie, Office Space, where the guy had to go meet with the Bobs, and his explanation when he was meeting with the Bob’s, whose job was to come in and lay everybody off at the office, that he wasn’t an engineer or a programmer, and he wasn’t in sales, and his job was to communicate between the two parties who couldn’t speak each others’ language.

Paul Springer: Right. An interpreter, if you will.

Very much so. And that’s kind of how, you know, we as technology trainers back in the day became so popular. Because we were helping people, you know, navigate the minefield of all this technology and stuff. Not required, but fairly important, you know, in what we do. But it really, again, I don’t mean to harp on this, but it’s all about relationships. It really is.

It’s not so much, you know, mastering Excel, or Access, or Publisher, or any of that stuff.

Keyboard Cowboys

Bob Burns: So, fast forward to today. Technology has come a long way. You don’t need a thick, you know, 400-page manual to figure out how to use your iPhone anymore, and it’s much more accessible to everybody, but I think one thing that has changed as a result, is there seems to be…some people seem to use technology as a as a barrier. So they don’t have to go talk to a human.

Paul Springer: Yeah, they hide behind it.

Bob Burns: They hide behind it. So, do you see new agents coming into this business, kind of doing that, and if so, how do you how do you talk them out of hiding behind a computer screen and talking to humans?

Paul Springer: Yeah, I mean the technology aspect with the social media and stuff like that is, it’s kind of funny that they call it social media cause I mean, it’s really anti-social. I mean, it really is.

I am a big fan of Facebook, and that’s primarily what I use, but LinkedIn, Twitter, all these different ones, Instagram, and all these other ones that my teenage daughters tell me about. But yeah, I mean, it depends on the client. I mean, we’re also at an era where our customers are evolving and changing. So, I don’t think there’s one way to do it. You can’t paint everybody with the same brush. So, depending on your customer, or your client, or who you’re going to be working with, you’re going to approach them differently.

You know, so we have a team of gentlemen in our office here. They’re all early 30-somethings, and they’ve got pretty good systems in place, and they utilize social media pretty heavily, and they’re very successful.

The other extreme would be people, you know, going out and door-knocking before their open houses and inviting people to a special private tour of a property, and working neighborhoods, and going about it different ways that way. It’s obviously a lot harder to run into people that are going to be rude to you, you know. There’s all those keyboard cowboys on the computer that are going to be… you know what I mean.

Bob Burns: I’m totally writing that down. Keyboard Cowboys.

Paul Springer: Yeah. And so, no one’s going to treat you in a rude manner, and object, you know, rudely, if you’re there at their front door typically, or meeting them in another situation out for coffee, or whatever. It’s just going to be a lot warmer situation. Whereas, you know, with technology, you know, the texting and stuff, it’s you know, I love it, however, you know, in different scenarios, it’s great. In others, it’s not so great.

Meet Your Customer Where They Are

Bob Burns: Well, I think what you said is so insightful. That it’s not about how you want to do business as a real estate professional. It’s about meeting your customer where they’re most comfortable. So, if they’re most comfortable talking on the telephone, you’ve got to be on the telephone. If they’re more comfortable texting or instant messaging on Facebook, you have to meet the customer where they are, rather than expecting them to meet you where you are. So having the ability to be versatile and adaptable, I think, is the difference today with technology than in the past.

Paul Springer: Absolutely.

Bob Burns: You need to have a mastery of everything, because you never know where that customer is going want to meet you.

Paul Springer: Right. And people will surprise you too. I mean, you’ll pass judgment on someone, and they’ll be like, “Oh, just text me,” or “Oh, just, you know,” and you’re like, “Oh, wow, you’re a texter?” Just don’t judge a book by its cover and assume, because someone’s in a certain age bracket, you know…

It’s funny I got my mom an iPad a couple Christmases ago, and she uses it like crazy, and it just totally took me by surprise that she had any interest in it whatsoever. And she’s, you know, in her late 70s. So, you know, you just have to be versatile. You have to be able to adjust accordingly, and you know, work on the playing field that they want to work from.

Systems to Support Your Team

Bob Burns: Totally. So, you have a growing real estate business, and you’ve done a lot in the business. You started off as a salesperson. You went into the training side. You’ve been in management. Now, you’re back in sales as a team with your wife.

What are some of the tools that you use to manage your business as a team? Because I think with a team specifically, one of the biggest challenges I see with agents in teams, whether it’s husband and wife, or otherwise, is communication. All the members of the team need to know what all the other members are doing, otherwise things start to break down.

Paul Springer: Yeah, it’s a little bit crude. I mean, we share a calendar. We share a checklist of to-dos. We typically meet every Monday morning. We kind of have a summary of what’s going on for the week, and what’s happened in the past week. You know, because we’re all running in different directions, and a lot of texting going on, and inviting to calendar events, and stuff like that. So, it’s not as high-end as you think. It’s being dedicated and committed to utilizing it on a regular basis. Because if you don’t follow it regularly, you’ll miss appointments, and miss different things that are key, and important. So, it’s fun. It’s mainly just my wife and I currently. You know, we’ve talked about growing it a little bit more, you know, maybe in the future is possibility.

Bob Burns: So it’s more about…and I think this is a really, really important point. It’s more about discipline and executing whatever it is the plan is. Than it is to come up with some sort of super automated, closed-loop type, hands-off system.

Paul Springer: Yeah. Over the years, that I’ve been in the business, there’s different things out there, you know, like Top Producer, and other, you know, dedicated real estate contact managers out there, but depending on what you need, and want, you can still get away with just some of the essentials, or basics using Outlook and other things like that.

We’ve got some proprietary software within our company that helps us with drip campaigns and communications, or email schedulers, and stuff like that. So, the combination of that and just basic Outlook, I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but it works. It really does.

Good Agency in a Technological World

Bob Burns: Totally. So, sometimes technology can get in the way, and I’m still trying to get my head around this. So, you’re currently practicing, and I have not sold real estate in a world where the forms are digital.

Paul Springer: Yea, it’s awesome.

Bob Burns: I think it would be awesome, but there’s one thing that, I’ve asked this of a lot of people, and I am still having a hard time getting my head around it. Regardless of the program, whether it’s Dotloop, or DocuSign, or SignNow, or whatever. There’s a million of them out there. They all seem to have the feature, I guess it’s a feature, where once you click on the thing to initial, it scrolls through all of the language in the contract to the next initial, and the next initial, and the next initial. And suddenly, we’re signing contracts that have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of implications, and we’re paying as much attention to it, or even less attention to it in some cases, as we do when we sign up for a new phone contract down at Verizon.

So, how do you, you know, in this world of technology, and where things need to go fast, how do you put the brakes on and make sure your customers understand the gravity of what they’re doing?

Paul Springer: So, what we basically do is, you know, we’ll have a discussion about the details. You know, price, terms, motivation, et cetera, and We’ll typically build a purchase agreement, maybe in that case, fill it all out save it as a PDF, and I’ll email it to them, and we will if there’s distance between us, you know, otherwise I will meet them in person is my preference, but if there’s distance between us, we’ll go through it, line by line on that PDF. So, when they get that electronic authorization, you know signature, initials, or whatever, they’ll already know what they’re signing.

But, I totally agree . There’s, you know, there’s great things about technology, and there’s some risk. I mean, there’s some serious concerns about, you know, people…because it just bumps from page, to page, to page, and I mean, you can sign a purchase agreement, sellers disclosure, everything included, in probably less than 30 seconds, and that’s on your phone, or your tablet, or your computer. So, I mean, it’s…you know, I’ve had different scenarios where I’ve sent, you know, addendums to dads watching their daughter play volleyball at the high school gym, you know, and so there’s some great, great aspects to that, but there’s also some very delicate risk that needs to be addressed. I totally agree with you. I absolutely agree with you.

Bob Burns: So, the tools have become more powerful. It would be like putting me in the driver’s seat of a McLaren, or something like that. I know what a gas pedal is, and what a steering wheel is, but I’ve got no business being behind the wheel of a machine like that.

Paul Springer: Yeah, there’s lots of bells, and whistles, and features, and on the flip-side, like we talked about before, it depends on who your client is. Some people, you know, are thoroughly intimidated by all of that, and there are going to be sit downs where we’re going to go through the paperwork with a pen, and go through it in detail.

But, you know, the extreme would be… I had a situation years ago where I sold an estate home up in Coon Rapids. The gentleman lived in Southern California. Never met the guy in person. I sent him all the listing agreements, seller’s disclosures, et cetera, out to Southern California. We talked about it in deep detail. He signed it. Sent it over. Got a purchase agreement. You know, filled everything out. Sent it over to him. Signed it. Accepted it, and then the title company sent the package out to Southern California, and we never met, and it was all done electronically. So, there’s some extremes, but yeah, I could see that there’s definitely some concern there.

Disruptors are Nothing New

Bob Burns: So, what I think is interesting about this this whole thing, is…So, I think back…Remember when real estate companies were just first starting to get websites. It was before real estate agents even thought to get websites…

Paul Springer: Right, the magic bullet.

Bob Burns: ..And on the website, it would just be like an electronic brochure essentially. So, there was no way to search for listings, or properties. Maybe if the listing agent had it, they could manually key in like a photo of their listing, and some information. But then, we started putting listings through the IDX feed, and at that point I remember, we weren’t even calling it IDX, we were calling it broker reciprocity. And everybody in real estate was like, terrified. That we opened up the keys to the store, and we thought that we were going to make ourselves obsolete. That the customers wouldn’t need us anymore, but the funny thing was, as I believe the statistic at the time, was something like 70 some odd percent of home buyers used a REALTOR® in their real estate transaction. Fast-forward to today, and it’s something like 94 or 95 percent of homebuyers have used a real estate professional in their in their transaction.

Paul Springer: Absolutely.

Bob Burns: So, it’s funny how the technology, and the complexity of the information has actually increased the need for a professional on your side, rather than pushing the professional out of the business.

Paul Springer: I agree wholeheartedly. I mean, they still need us to get into the property. The local knowledge is absolutely critical. You know, we’ve got all these companies coming to town, you know, purchasing properties from a distance, and they don’t know the local market. They’ve never been in the house. They don’t know the neighborhood, et cetera. And you know, as professionals, you know, we’re able to net people more money, you know, as a result of having that local knowledge, and the negotiating ability, and you know, I don’t think that’s going to be…you know, knock on wood, I don’t think it’s going to be changing anytime soon. But yeah, I mean, I could see how there could be, you know…very much so, with people feeling that we were giving all the information away, and you know, we were doomed at that point, but it wasn’t the case at all. It wasn’t.

Bob Burns: It seems like every, I don’t know, five to seven years, there’s some sort of thing in our business that leads people to believe that we’re doomed.

Paul Springer: Right. No, after you’ve done it a while, and you know, you just don’t believe any of the hype, and the excitement, or the energy behind it. Everybody’s kind of looking for that get rich quick, you know, scenario, but I think, you know, our industry, and what we’ve built over the years is very much needed. You know, it’s critical, and in order to help people, you know, navigate and get through the process…

Bob Burns: So, I think the interesting thing is there’s all of this ancillary stuff that…So, all of these companies, or technologies, or let’s call them disruptors, you can call them whatever you want. They’ve always been there, and they’ve always surrounded the center of the real estate transaction, which is the real estate agent…

Paul Springer: Correct.

Bob Burns: …And since the beginning of time, there’s been some sort of effort to…now, the word is “disintermediate,” the real estate professional out of the middle of the transaction, but none of them have succeeded, because I think everybody’s missing something that you’ve said three or four times in this conversation. That really, the only thing that matters, is building relationships, and creating raving fans. The rest is extraneous and inessential.

A Coda on Relationships

Bob Burns: So, I wanted your take on this as someone who was selling, and you built a database as a salesperson. Then, you got out of sales and more into the management and employee side. Going back into the sales business, were you able to rebuild your database or did you start from scratch?

Paul Springer: You know, I still stayed in touch with people. I did. I mean, again it’s relationship-based, and my wife, she has been licensed for about seven or eight years, and you know, we would run things through her typically, but you know, we would go together on appointments. But never really stopped contacting people, because it’s more than just a business relationship. It’s beyond that. But you know, I think with…I don’t know how to describe it, but I just think that…I think anybody could, with a little bit of organization, could jump into this business. Do well, if they have the right ability, and mindset to grind, and go hard, and you know, like, say, build a database.

Bob Burns: So, it’s all…nothing will replace that relationship…

Paul Springer: Correct.

Bob Burns: …And I think it’s really cool that through all of this change – you’ve been an early adopter of all of this change – you’ve always had your eye on the horizon, looking for the next helpful trend that’ll be a supplement to your business. But you’ve never taken your eye off the ball of that whole relationship piece. Even when you were getting a paycheck as a salaried employee, and not even as a 1099. You just…it’s like, natural to you to go out and build relationships.

Paul Springer: Yeah, you’re always there to help give people direction and guidance. Even if it wasn’t me, you know, in certain instances, you know, I’d direct them to another person, you know, accordingly.

I have always been of the attitude, you know, you get what you give, and so you know, you help people, and it’ll come back to you, you know, in one form or another down the road. So, it’s yeah…

Bob Burns: We don’t have to make this hard. It can be easy, if we let it.

Paul Springer: It can. Thinking back, when you were talking about some of the technology. I was thinking about some of the Palm Pilot classes I used to teach.

Back in the, I think it was late 90s, with an overhead projector.

Bob Burns: Oh yeah!

Paul Springer: With the grayscale. I was just kind of laughing and thinking about the primitive, silly stuff.

Bob Burns: Oh, it was so awesome though, to be able to like, edit an appointment in your calendar and not have to scratch out the whole page. Because those Daytimers…you’d run out of room.

Paul Springer: Yeah, oh my gosh. It was so caveman. We thought we were something else.

Bob Burns: Yeah, and then, you could hook it up to your computer with a printer cable of some sort, and it would synchronize…

Paul Springer: It would auto-magically connect…

Bob Burns: Auto-magic – that was a key-word, that was cool!

So today, what trends, not just technology, but what trends in-general do you have your eye on in the real estate business, or in the economy, or just in general? What are you watching and looking for right now, out there on the horizon?

Paul Springer: You know, I think it always goes back to listing inventory, and getting listings. You know, you can spend a lot of money, or excuse me, a lot of time, with buyers you know…

Trends…there’s a lot of things going in and out of the news. I think the ibuyer, you know, big companies, I think locally we’ve got “We Buy Ugly Houses,” and Zillow, and all these other different companies coming to town, and I don’t think that’s going to last, or continue to gain a ton of traction. Maybe for the people that need to sell their home quickly, and to make it go away. You know, and they’re willing to give up you know, 20, 30, 40 percent of their equity. You know, I think, you know, my focus is really just mainly going after and getting solid listings, and helping people you know, get to the next chapter in their life, really.

Bob Burns: So, just staying laser-focused on the relationship…

Paul Springer: Precisely.

Bob Burns: …And creating raving fans. There’s a new book I’ve just read. It’s called Superfans, that takes your raving fans even to the next level. We don’t need thousands of people cheering us on. We need a couple hundred of really engaged people, and you will make a solid living for as long as you want.

Paul Springer: Precisely. That’s a good summary.

Stay Focused on What Matters

Bob Burns: So, to wrap things up today, what’s one piece of advice, and I think you’ve said it a few times, but maybe you want to take it on a different angle. If you had to leave everybody listening to this with one thing they need to be thinking about, or implementing in their business, or watching out for…Can you boil it all down to one thing?

Paul Springer: You know, I think maybe the main thing is, you’re never done learning. I think, even though I’ve been in it as long as I have, I actually, in the appointment before this, I was attending an Out-List, Out-Last class. How to make your listing presentation sharper and better, and putting together a better pre-listing packet to send out to your sellers before your meeting, and talking tracks, and stuff like that. You’ve just got to continue to learn and focus. You never know it all. I don’t claim to, ever. And we’re always growing, and learning. You just you just never stop. It’s because everything’s evolving and changing all the time, and there’s still a lot of basics within our industry that will never, ever change. I think you may be talked about disruptors, and stuff like that. There’s things that’ll come and go, but no, it’s a tremendous business to be in. I’ve had some wonderful friends within the industry, as well as clients, and it’s just a blast. It’s just a lot of fun. I enjoy it greatly.

You know, and again I’m completely flattered by your intro. That was wonderfully nice. I appreciate it. I hope I don’t still smell like wet carpet.

Bob Burns: So, we’ll leave it at that. Paul Springer with Coldwell Banker Burnet, thanks so much for spending some time with us this afternoon, and thank you everybody for listening. I learned a lot in this conversation. I hope you did too.

Remember to like, share, and follow us on social media, and

Music: “My Everything” by Roads used under license from Tribe of Noise.

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