How Real Estate Has Evolved Over 30 Years

Compass’ most tenured agents compare notes on how the industry has shifted and predictions for what’s on the horizon.


Compass New York agent Toni Haber takes a rooftop call with a client. | Image: Joel Caldwell

What was the biggest shift to occur in real estate since you started in the business?

Sheila Mooney, DC: The increasing ability to work from virtually anywhere. When fax machines were new, I remember packing mine on trips to the beach — at the time, that alone represented a great leap in mobility.

Toni Haber, New York: The advent of internet and cell phones. It used to be that all of our listings were printed on flashcards, and if you needed to make a phone call while out and about, you searched for the nearest pay phone. Oy — I’m dating myself!

What types of technology do you remember using that are now completely outmoded?

Toni Haber, New York: Beepers were the first major advance in out-of-office communication. I used to wear it on my belt loop and felt really cool whenever a call came in!

Scott Strough, Hamptons: I carried around my first cell phone in a small suitcase! It was so big and clumsy that my phone took up the passenger seat of my car.

Scott Tamkin, LA: In terms of tech flops, I would say that the biggest was the very short-lived QR code. It was overly complicated and just never took off in real estate.

LA agents Scott and Melinda Tamkin review their marketing plan for a new listing. | Image: Omeez Jones

Any memorable stories?

Heidi Houston, Aspen: One time, the US government contacted me to sell a $22 million property that was undergoing an FBI investigation. Even after we had a buyer, we couldn’t close the sale for the year and a half it took them to crack the case!

Melinda Tamkin, LA: We were showing our listing — which belonged to the creators of The Amazing Race — to Simon Cowell of American Idol. They were all in the house at the same time, but never met. In retrospect, we should have opened a bottle of wine and sat on the patio together!

Butch Haze, San Francisco: I worked with clients in the SF area of Pacific Heights who needed to sell their property to help them retire. We spent several thousands of dollars on improvements, and the return on their investment ended up being tenfold.

Butch Haze and Rick Teed of San Francisco discuss plans for a new development | Image: Justin Kaneps

What do you think was the single biggest game-changer in real estate to date?

Heidi Houston, Aspen: The ability to source any information you need on your mobile device — not only can you instantly send property images or video to clients, but there are now apps that provide altitude, sun direction, and room measurements on the spot.

Sheila Mooney, DC: Docusign! We used to have to hand-deliver documents for buyers and sellers to physically sign, so agents were constantly headed across the city at all hours to complete transactions.

Butch Haze, San Francisco: The arrival of Zillow — it got everyone talking about real estate all the time. People could find out quickly what their neighbor or friend paid for their house. They became unofficial investors in real estate, tracking the market like stocks.

Scott Strough, Hamptons: Thanks to an uptick in property-focused television programming and advertising, it became cool to design, renovate, and play the market. Real estate has become a fashionable financial venture with artistic expression.

Aspen agent Heidi Houston consults with a colleague. | Image: Ashton Ray Hansen

What do you think will be the biggest change in the next ten years?

Rick Teed, San Francisco: Agents will soon show homes using Oculus VR headsets and appoint robots to host open houses. Yet for all these advances, tech hasn’t replicated the incomparable human element agents provide.

Scott Strough, Hamptons: Small boutiques and mom-and-pop operations will become extinct. The support required to meet modern marketing, communication and data expectations makes it impossible for a small operations to compete with corporate firms.

Butch Haze, San Francisco: Virtual and augmented reality. We work with a lot of developers and the advancement in this category is so exciting for the real estate business. For the first time, people can understand and inhabit a house before it is built.