|This article was published on: 03/01/2008|
Welcome to Real Estate 2.0
There’s a new Web world out there. Here’s how to build business with a variety of social networking tools.
When Teresa Boardman left a major Minneapolis-area real estate brokerage in 2005, she saw traffic to her Web site plunge. Most of her Web visitors had found her through the brokerage site, she soon realized.
Looking for a way to increase her online visibility, Boardman turned to a tactic then still relatively unknown to real estate professionals. She started her own blog, a Web-based daily chat with her customers, potential customers, and anyone else interested in hearing about real estate in her St. Paul, Minn., market area. “At the time, I couldn’t find any examples to follow,” she recalls.
Today, Boardman is setting the example. Her StPaulRealEstateBlog.com site pops up first on a list of Google finds when you search for “St. Paul real estate.” She’s getting between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors a week to her blog, and that’s translated into new business.
Ann Marie Clements, with the RE/MAX Realty Group, in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Gaithersburg, Md., has found another avenue for Web-based lead generation. She posted a profile of herself on Facebook, a social networking site. The site was founded in 2004 as a way for college students to connect, but in the past year, Facebook has been reaching out to business people. Within three weeks of her Facebook page’s debut, Clements got a client referral from another Re/Max professional who found her there.
Welcome to the latest incarnation of the Internet. The professionals who simply created Web sites for online exposure are giving way to the next generation of Web users. The tech world has dubbed tools like blogs and social network sites like Facebook as Web 2.0, enabling Web users to connect with one another rather than view content passively.
These tools offer real estate practitioners a new way to market themselves — turning Web 2.0 into Real Estate 2.0. “Real Estate 2.0 really means a conversation with the client or the prospective client,” says Brian Boero, cofounder of 1000Watt Consulting, an Oakland, Calif., real estate technology consultant. “That sits in opposition to Real Estate 1.0, which was really about one-way communication from the real estate professional or brokerage company about their services, their expertise, their brand.”
Major Real Estate 2.0 tools are:
When you’re ready to join the Web 2.0 movement, you can do it on your own, turn to a variety of Web sites ready to help or, if you’re part of a large national brokerage, look to its Web site as your home base.
More tools likely will appear as the Web continues to evolve, but real estate and marketing experts agree that the key to mastering Real Estate 2.0 isn’t simply to focus on the tools. Rather, success involves taking a new approach to marketing yourself and a new realization that old approaches won’t resonate with buyers and sellers who look to the Web first for their real estate information.
The coming of Real Estate 2.0 signals the end of an era when real estate professionals could attract business by promoting themselves while holding on tightly to key information about listings, says Charlie Young, chief operating officer with Parsippany, N.J.–based Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC.
“The listing information really is a commodity now. You have to look at how you can augment and bring value to it,” says Young. The most effective real estate bloggers, for example, “promote communities and not themselves. That’s a fundamental shift for a real estate professional who has been brought up in a culture of self-promotion,” Young contends.
Being genuine is the first and most important Real Estate 2.0 rule. Be yourself and let people who like you and your views find you.
Boardman, for example, writes about historic homes because that’s an area of interest for her. She’s found clients with the same interest and thinks they’re easier to work with because they feel they already know her from her blog postings, she says.
Other rules of the Real Estate 2.0 world: Developing leads takes time. Blogging and social networking won’t likely replace face-to-face contact with your sphere of influence. And your 2.0 efforts can overwhelm your day if you don’t manage your time properly.
Create a Brand
Which Real Estate 2.0 tool should you try first? Experts agree you need to take a step back and do some work before you decide. “It’s entirely likely there are real estate professionals out there making a killing using Web 2.0, but I would bet that they have a killer brand behind them,” says Tate Linden, principal with Stokefire, a brand-naming consulting firm in Springfield, Va. “Find a way to differentiate yourself.”
Claude Labbe, ABR®, GRI, with the Flaherty Group in Kensington, Md., consulted with Linden before deciding to position himself as a real estate professional for people who need things done quickly. His tagline, “Realty for Your Busy Life,” is on his Web site and is part of the name of his blog, YourBusyLife.com.He started the blog in the spring of 2007.
“I knew I wanted something to get people to talk to me more,” Labbe says. “Real estate is a contact sport; you have to be with people.”
“If you get over the psychological hurdle of using a computer, it’s really not that much different from what you’ve always done,” says consultant Boero. “Real Estate 2.0 should be a medium that helps you convey your voice and get your image out to a wider audience.”
To be effective, that image needs to be of someone who knows the market inside and out. Put yourself in your prospects’ shoes. What would you want to hear if you were them?, Boero asks.
Ardell DellaLoggia, with Brio Realty in Bellevue, Wash., wants readers of her two blogs to know she’s their advocate. DellaLoggia began blogging as a tester for RealTown blogs on Jan. 1, 2006. “I always say I started blogging because I didn’t like football,” she jokes. Rather than watch traditional New Year’s Day college bowl games, she wrote five blog postings that day.
Today, “all my business comes from blogging,” says DellaLoggia, who does between 20 and 30 transactions a year and has done as many as 36 in one 12-month stretch. The steady stream of prospects from blogging has changed how DellaLoggia approaches other parts of her business. Open houses, for example, used to be strictly for attracting new clients. Now, when she does an open house, she’s out to sell the house, not herself, she says.
Her blogs appear on two of the more well-known real estate blog hosting sites — RealTown blogs and the Rain City Guide.
While Rain City Guide concentrates on the Seattle area, the unrelated ActiveRain, both are based in Bellevue, Wash., is a national site that allows real estate professionals to put up a blog without charge. Started in June 2006, ActiveRain bridges the space between blogs and social networks, offering a bit of each.
The idea to create an online real estate community complete with blogs was “one of those three-in-the-morning ideas,” jokes Matt Heaton, executive vice president and cofounder of ActiveRain. “We saw this huge need for social networking in the real estate space,” he says.
ActiveRain was conceived as a way for real estate pros to connect with consumers, but it quickly became a place for real estate pros to talk and refer business to each other. “So we embraced that,” Heaton says. “The feedback is just amazingly positive. One associate said he got seven listings in two days off a blog.”
ActiveRain isn’t standing still; in late 2007, a major site revamp was planned. It also was testing Localism.com, a new site to provide local market information across the country. Real estate professionals will contribute information about their markets. Another site, RealtyTimes.com, already offers local market information supplied by real estate pros in its Realty Times Market Conditions feature.
And now a new site, Zolve.com, is hoping to do much the same thing, creating local market profiles — in the form of wikis — that can be as detailed as what people think of a particular teacher in a particular school, says founder Brian Wilson.
Zolve, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., launched in mid-October 2007 with 2,800 members (membership is free). It allows business referrals with contracts on its site creating a digital paper trail for any referral. Wilson has plans to expand to a consumer function that will allow people to rate their experiences with real estate professionals, creating Amazon.com-like ratings of various pros. Sites such as Incredibleagents.com and Realestateratingz.com are already offering agent ratings.
Zolve and ActiveRain aren’t the only sites moving more deeply into Real Estate 2.0. Trulia.com, which began with property listings, now features Trulia Voices, where consumers can ask real estate–related questions and get answers from real estate pros in their area.
“It’s an example of us making interaction online extremely simple, and it has become an extremely effective way for real estate professionals to demonstrate their local expertise,” says Sami Inkinen, founder and chief operating officer of San Francisco–based Trulia. The average question in Trulia Voices receives an answer in 20 minutes, he notes.
Here Come the Caveats
Social networks like Facebook appeal to a younger demographic: Many are years away from home buying. But “those folks will be buying homes over the next 10 years” and so shouldn’t be ignored, says Mike Montsko, president of Weichert Lead Network for Weichert, REALTORS®, in Morris Plains, N.J.
Clements, who got a lead shortly after joining Facebook, learned some of the nuances of social networks when she first tried MySpace. She posted some photos of herself in casual clothes and even an evening dress on MySpace. Those got her e-mail from men wanting to meet her, not something the married Clements was looking for. So when she switched to Facebook, she went with only one photo in a business suit to convey that she was there for business, not casual chatting or dating.
While blogging has its real estate adherents who will tell you about business they’ve garnered from their blogs, social networking isn’t quite at that stage yet.
“Social networking should be left as networking; don’t get your hopes up for more than that. Don’t think this is going to be your bonus check at the end of the year,” says Nick Pacelli, interactive director at the Most Agency, a Newport Beach, Calif., advertising and communications agency that has worked with the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Social networks also are geared for person-to-person interaction, so professionals need to be careful they don’t come off sounding too brand-preachy.
Any Real Estate 2.0 tool you try will take time to gain a following, adds Keith Garner, managing director at the Center for REALTOR® Technology in Chicago. “Experiment but make sure that what you’re doing has some sort of return,” he says. Wait six months to evaluate whether your Real Estate 2.0 efforts are bearing fruit. “You’re shopping your personality out there,” Garner says.
Big Players Are Thinking 2.0 Too
Franchises, large brokers, and others involved with real estate also are trying to carve out space in the Web 2.0 world.
Homescape.com, a listings site, has hired professional journalists to create a blog that looks at real estate news. The site is a division of Classified Ventures LLC in Chicago, which is itself owned by media companies Belo Corp., Gannett Co. Inc., The McClatchy Co., Tribune Co., and The Washington Post Co. Those journalism roots provide it with a point of distinction from other listing sites, one it wants to emphasize with its new journalist blog, says Frank Breithaupt, Homescape’s vice president and general manager.
Scripps Networks, which owns HGTV and HGTV.com among its other media holdings, in December announced the debut of FrontDoor.com, which features a variety of videos on real estate topics in addition to real estate–related stories from its editors.
By the first quarter of this year, it hopes to be syndicating HGTV-produced video features to real estate partner Web sites, says Vicki Neil, vice president of real estate with Scripps in Knoxville, Tenn. The site already is mentioned on HGTV’s main site as a place to browse through home listings.
“HGTV has been trying to evaluate where great brand extensions are. Real estate shows have been doing a great job on our network, consumers turn to us as soon as they buy a home. The next logical step is to grab the consumer and help them through that homebuying process,” says Neil.
Coldwell Banker is partnering with Scripps, investing in videos it can put on its site, says Charlie Young, chief operating officer with Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC in Parsippany, N.J. It’s also working with another company to create neighborhood videos for its site.
On the blog side, Coldwell Banker introduced AgentSpace on its site at the end of 2007, allowing agents to write and post videos and photos, says Young. The company has also been working with its agents to populate a new wiki-like tool that will include surveys about the best attributes of neighborhoods around the country.
Coldwell Banker already has taken one of the largest steps into Real Estate 2.0 with its efforts on Second Life, a virtual reality online world where it set up shop in March 2006. “Our objective was to send a message to the real world that Coldwell Banker was serious about innovation,” says Young. Through July 31, of last year, Coldwell Bankers’ Second Life office had racked up 1.3 million minutes of visitor time. Young notes that the site has yet to attract a large enough number of users to make it a serious source of real estate leads. “At the current moment, I think we’ve learned as much as we can,” he says.
Just a few miles down the road, in Morris Plains, N.J., Weichert, REALTORS®, is workng on its own Web initiatives, including one that will enable its associates to create neighborhood profiles. “I think you’re going to see more and more large brokers incorporating these Web 2.0 principles going forward.” says Mike Montsko, president of Weichert Lead Network for Weichert, REALTORS®.
Among other initiatives, Weichert is working on ways its associates can build neighborhood profiles.
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