In an age where digital marketing is cheap and stunning web designs are plentiful, doesn’t it seem odd that home listings on real estate web sites aren’t actually selling on the web? Oh, certainly, there are lots of listings on the web. And agreeably, there are lots of houses purchased after buyers see them on the web. But any experienced salesperson knows that the chasm that has to be crossed – between posting the listing online and closing a transaction – is filled with a tremendous amount of work. And the astounding part is: hardly any of it is being done by the listings online.
What does it mean to say that listings aren’t selling online? Well, consider this: Most online listing inventory looks exactly like that: inventory. Like a book. Like a flyer. Like a great, big, dusty page from the MLS catalog from years ago. Sure, there’s a photo or two floating around; maybe there’s even a virtual tour on the lucky ones. And let’s not forget those really creative descriptions, especially the ones with the clever abbreviations like “2 BR, 3 BA, LG FM RM”. Paste on a map, throw in a mortgage calculator and that’s what the real estate industry considers selling on the web.
Trouble is: It doesn’t work.
I mean, it doesn’t do the work of selling the property. It may be informative. It may be glossy. It might even be interactive. But in today’s multimedia age, driven by Gen X’ers and Echo Boomers, simply placing listings online doesn’t do enough work to sell homes efficiently. In fact, it may even be grossly inefficient if we compare it to other online industries.
Consider, for example, the car industry: Check out Mercedes Benz at www.mbusa.com as a benchmark web site that does work in selling its product. First thing you see is a “showcase” on the main page: their flagship 2007 S-class model sits like a new listing for everyone to see. Notice that it’s a great, big, huge photo of a very expensive item for sale. It’s full color, it even moves. With a single click, you’re in a special, full-screen multimedia presentation of a $100,000-plus product. And then, the work begins. First, a near-real woman literally walks out onto the screen and speaks to you. She introduces her product and then invites you to explore it by clicking on a guided tour. She talks to you. Then, a video tour (television quality) begins to take you through the automobile, accompanied by a voice over. Thirty seconds into the tour, the woman reappears and invites us inside for a closer look. She then takes us on a guided tour of the property – I mean, automobile – where she explains the unique features and competitive advantages.
After the guided tour, which literally sucks you into the car and creates a virtual relationship between you and the salesperson (not to mention with the product), a traditional link at the bottom offers some photos – nineteen of them – plus two virtual tours and two extra video clips. A “specs” link gives more traditional details like interior dimensions and engine capacities. But a button marked “Ask the Concierge” will absolutely blow you away: The woman walks back out onto the screen and literally says, I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. When you click on a question in the menu, the woman comes alive and speaks to you – she tells you the answer – just as if she were really talking to you. Finally, after spending a good 20 minutes in a virtual sales presentation of this very expensive product, the consumer is invited to enter their email address so Mercedes can “keep them informed” because this product isn’t even available yet!
Now, that’s selling online.
The question is: Why isn’t that the benchmark for selling homes online? Certainly, the Mercedes is expensive, but it’s still many times less expensive than the houses we sell. And it’s likely that the gross margin on the product is comparable – maybe even smaller – than some of the commissions paid on luxury home sales. So why does the Mercedes S-Class get a fully interactive, sales-activated web site when the best any real estate listing gets online is a few photos, a virtual tour and a map? Why is it that the great majority of listings that cost two or more times the price of the car still have only one photo, no tour, no voice narration, no accompanying documents, no downloadable presentations, no interactive sales person, no guided tour, no click-ability, no zoom features and in some cases – gasp! – not even an email address to contact the salesperson.
Better still, on the Mercedes site, the consumer had to do virtually none of the work to learn about the product. He had to click a few links, but the sales and information process was fed to him. He didn’t have to translate acronyms, spin objects around on his own or try to figure out room sizes from thumbnail photographs or warped video lenses. Everything was laid out, spelled out and literally spoken out-loud to him in the sales phase of introducing him to the product. The web site did the work, not the consumer. He didn’t have to “search” for the product– it was presented to him with minimal effort. Even if he wanted to see other models, a quick, intuitively organized menu shows all models within 3 clicks – or even compares all models on a single “map”. The experience is designed around minimal work for the consumer because the web site is designed to sell.
But wait, there’s more! Try clicking on the Financial Solutions section of the Mercedes web site: It points you to a partner site, just like many real estate companies partner with mortgage sites. Yet the experience only gets better – because the Mercedes finance site is also designed to do the work of educating and selling to the consumer. The Website tour is broken into two presentations, not lots of text. The finance process is explained using video, graphics and narration. Visitors simply sit back and learn how to go about financing their purchase.
Next, a special podcast is available for download so consumers can learn about leasing by listening to an audio file on their MP3 player. Yes, today’s buyers use iPods and download audio files to learn about high-priced purchases. But the real fun comes when you try the “finance calculator”: it actually works in reverse to the traditional real estate calculator. Rather than enter the price of a home and then see if you can afford it, you enter your desired monthly payment and car model and the site finds and configures models that fit your budget! Imagine entering your credit rating and desired mortgage payment and having a real estate web site find you a variety of homes that meet your financial ability. Once again, the finance calculator does real work – it takes an important item like financial guidelines and finds products to match that need, saving the consumer time trying to figure out which models meet their needs and budget. Now that’s sales.
Oh, yeah; I almost forgot. At the top of the page was a conveniently placed link marked “En Español.” Of course.
Consider what we’ve learned by taking a tour of web sites in that industry supposedly ranked lower than the real estate industry in consumer confidence. We find products much like houses: you can’t order them and have them shipped online; you have to visit them and test drive them; you have to manage substantial financial matters before you can complete the transaction; and consumers generally do weeks of research on both kinds of products, using the internet, before contacting a dealer or salesperson. Yet something substantially different happens on the automobile web site: it is not just a catalog. It is not a database. Information doesn’t sit still or wait to be read. Salespeople aren’t hidden and there isn’t a “searchable” anything. It doesn’t make the consumer do all the work. Instead, it showcases the product, using video, photos, data and even virtual salespeople. It does the work of selling online, and in most cases, it probably does it even better than the salesperson would do in person.
This article was authored by Matthew Ferrara of Matthew Ferrara Seminars Inc.
Reprinted with permission of Matthew Ferrara Seminars Inc.