House Hunters Connect To Real Estate Agents Online

Investor's Business Daily

Successful real estate agents today need all the usual skills — local market expertise, trustworthiness, and negotiation and sales chops — but they must also be, well, nerdy.

Whether you're buying or selling property, you'll want to evaluate your real estate agent's tech and social media know-how. To do that, you need to know what does and doesn't work in a 21st-century real estate agent's tool bag of websites, social networks, blogs, email newsletters and Twitter accounts.

It's a new property market, with consumers able to instantly access listings and property data online. Some agents get it, others not so much. About 92% of residential real estate firms use the MLS or multiple listing service, but only 65% of these real estate agents are on third-party aggregator sites such as Trulia (TRLA), Redfin and Zillow (Z), according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors.

And although many top real estate agents say blogging is a key skill in today's property market, NAR says just 12% of Realtors reported having a blog in 2013, up from 10% in 2012.

"Clients prefer different tools ... so building a wide presence is a Realtor's best strategy," said Jessica Lautz, NAR's director of member and consumer survey research.

Realtor Elizabeth Weintraub with Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, Calif., echoes that thought. She says her new clients sometimes tell her that they chose her because they went to a bunch of different real estate sites and they say "everywhere I went, there you were.

Blogging, Emails And Twitter

Blogging is one way for real estate agents to increase their presence and showcase their knowledge and personality, say experts.

Weintraub, a big believer, has three blogs and writes "every day." "Blogs help explain exactly who you are and what you do," she said. "And when people read your blog they feel like they know you." Blogs also drive traffic to your website, she says.

Also, she uses one blog site, ActiveRain, to network with other real estate agents in other markets, which has resulted in referrals.

Brock Harris, a property broker with Silver Lake Real Estate in Los Angeles, says his email newsletter is his best marketing tool. "It's an excuse for me to get in front of people and remind them of me," he said. He also uses Twitter to build mind-share.

Weintraub uses Twitter too: "I tweet links to my blogs.

And Harris has returned to old-school marketing with mailers. He says they reach people in the neighborhoods he knows best. And he said, "Success begets success ... the best marketing in the world is a bunch of for-sale and sold signs.

Harris also has appeared on HGTV. He says the shows have never generated direct business, but his participation results in "a bit of credibility in my pre-listing package.

Listing Aggregators and Yelp

What new tools have had the most profound impact on real estate marketing? Real estate agents say third-party aggregators such as Trulia and Zillow have changed the game.

These sites offer listings and data on properties across the nation. And the sites enable real estate agents to enhance their listings with more information about their listed properties and themselves, which is free. Or they can pay for ads that pop up when visitors view listings in certain ZIP codes.

"Consumers are searching for properties online, and agents who aren't using those tools yet are going to struggle," said Ginger Wilcox, director of industry marketing at Trulia.

When real estate agents enhance a listing on a third-party aggregator site, they can add photos, videos, more data and more info about themselves.

Some real estate agents say videos and panoramic photos sell properties; others say they're nice "dressing" but pricing the property right and getting the listing out to a wide audience are more important selling factors.

"These websites came up from behind and gave clients what they wanted, easily accessible data and listings," Harris said. "The housing market is like the stock market now; there's no information advantage to be held by any Realtor/broker.

Real estate buyers and sellers love being able to shop for property, analyze or just dream online, without pressure. And real estate agents say the pop-up ads they're buying on these sites, though pricey, are worth it.

Bic DeCaro, a real estate agent with Westgate Realty Group in Falls Church, Va., says she's now spending $60,000 annually for ads on these sites and "easily doubling" her money.

She says the key to converting leads to clients and listings is a quick response and market knowledge. Some potential clients contact real estate agents via their mobile devices while sitting in front of a listed house. "If you don't respond to a lead within minutes you'll lose it," DeCaro said.

DeCaro also has attracted listing clients via Zillow. She recently worked with a client living in Dubai. She gave him advice on repairs to his rental property, arranged for the work and then sold the house, with multiple offers a week from its listing date. He's since given her a great review online, and she's never even met him.

Most real estate aggregators allow clients to post reviews. But Mark Choey, partner and co-founder of Climb Real Estate Group in San Francisco, says reviews on Yelp (YELP), which is a general reviews site, are also free, and "the best" marketing for real estate agents today.

Choey advertises on both Trulia and Zillow and says the prices for ads on each site are "very competitive." He said: "You pick the amount of advertising you want in a ZIP code and it's all done online.

Another plus to the new real estate market? More educated clients.

Real estate buyers and sellers are "more engaged than in the past," said Mitch Robison, Zillow's senior director of trade marketing. "Now when (a buyer) contacts an agent through Zillow, they've already got it narrowed down to a few homes.

What Doesn't Work

Canned or slow responses, overly aggressive pitches and ads in markets that a real estate agent doesn't know very well are all formulas for failure.

And general advertising in non-real-estate publications isn't very effective, say experts. Also, real estate agents say Facebook (FB) might help a real estate agent keep up with friends and family, but they "don't really want to see you post real estate information all the time," said Choey.

Finally, keep in mind the limitations of marketing. "No marketing will sell a house that's not priced right," said Harris. "When people are looking for a real estate agent, they should look for someone who tells them the truth."

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