By Bridget McCrea
Today’s REALTOR® has an overwhelming selection of technology tools to sift through – from social media networks and mobile applications to customer relationship management software, services, and sites, the array can be as confusing as it is endless. Already busy with the rigors of running a business, agents and brokers can quickly get swept up in the vicious circle of continually trying new tools that never live up to expectations.
To help you navigate the options and figure out which tools actually produce sales in today’s competitive real estate environment, Bay State Realtor® talked to a few Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® members who are seeing real results from their technology choices. Here are five that they say are working for them:
1. Develop Branded Websites
Forget about relying solely on your broker’s generic website – or one that’s dedicated to your entire real estate practice – to generate business online. A better approach, according to Kate Lanagan MacGregor, is to capitalize on branded, niche-oriented sites that appeal to specific customer segments. Add designated sites for every property listing to the mix, says this brokerowner at Bold Moves Real Estate in Rochester, and you’ll wind up with a comprehensive web marketing approach that works.
Recently, for example, MacGregor sold a unique and “difficult to comp” equestrian property via the dedicated site, www.equestrian-properties.com
. Using the property’s deeded pond rights as a selling point, MacGregor paddle-boarded out to the dock at sunset and shot video that she uploaded to the website. “This really set the property apart,” says MacGregor, “and intrigued a buyer-to-be from as far away as California.” In real estate for 10 years, MacGregor gets the word out about her branded websites by researching keywords and integrating them into the sites’ content. She also promotes the sites on her LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.
MacGregor says the sites’ videos, blogs, and live chat features all help attract visitors and keep them there to learn more about what she’s selling – be it an equestrian property or a seniorfocused congregate living property (the latter of which also has its own domain and a marketing effort around keywords like “senior housing” and “independent assisted living.”) “We create "energy" around the properties or niches with these branded sites,” says MacGregor. “It makes people look at our listings in a different way and want to learn more.”
2. Hang Out Online With Google
The connection between online “hangouts” and sales-producing activities isn’t always clear in the real estate world, but MacGregor is one agent who has discovered a viable way to drum up business using Google+ Hangouts. This free video chat service enables both group (up to 10 people at a time) and one-on-one live chats online. Unlike Skype or FaceTime, Google+ Hangouts relies on technology that allows seamless “switching” from one person to the next during the chat. The service can also be used to share documents, images, videos, and additional pieces of content with other users.
Calling Google+ Hangouts a “phenomenal, emerging tool for real estate agents,” MacGregor has formed a group of people (her “board of directors,” so to speak) from around the world who get together for regular, online chats. One user turns to the chat to get web marketing advice from other members while another shares her search engine optimization (SEO) secrets. “We get together and mastermind things,” says MacGregor, who enjoys Google+ Hangouts’ collaborative, faceto-face environment. Her business is also benefitting from the web tool: recently an agent from Martha’s Vineyard reached out to MacGregor for help setting up her own Google+ Hangout.
3. Join the Facebook Frenzy
With 1.01 billion people using Facebook every month, it’s no surprise that agents have gravitated toward the social networking site as a potential source of business. Angela Harkins, broker-owner at Angela Harkins & Associates Real Estate in Westford, dipped her toe in Facebook’s waters a few years ago and has since made the site one of her online marketing focal points.
“I used to do a lot of mailings to clients and I’ve backed off to a couple a year,” says Harkins, who has been in real estate for 11 years. “Now I post things on Facebook.” Those posts include everything from industry news to local happenings to vegan recipes. She rounds out her social networking strategy by linking her posts to sites like LinkedIn and by posting property videos on YouTube. And while hard results are never easy to pinpoint in social networking circles, Harkin says her referral stream has increased since she moved from paper mailings to digital communications.
“It’s really hard to say, ‘Hey I posted something on Facebook and made a sale from it,’” says Harkins, “but when a customer mentions a vegan recipe that she saw on my Facebook wall a month earlier, I know that my efforts are working.”
4. Un-tether with a Tablet Computer
Sometimes making the sale is all about being in the right place at theright time with the right technology tool. For Harkins, that tool is the iPad. She stores all of her forms on the svelte tablet and uses it both in and out of the office with applications like Docusign, PDF Expert, and DotLoop, all of which allow her to manage transactions without having to be at her desk…or near a printer, fax machine, or mailbox.
Harkins’ tablet strategy paid off earlier this year when a buyer showed interest in a property, but wasn’t sure if she was ready to make her purchase decision. “We found a house that she loved, but we were 45 minutes away from my office,” recounts Harkins, who pulled into the nearest Starbucks, pulled up PDF Expert on her iPad, and began going over a proposed purchase and sale agreement with her client.
“She signed everything, went through the disclosures, and wrote a check for the deposit,” Harkins says. “I emailed the entire package – including the signed check – to the agent while we were sitting in the coffee shop.” The deal was set to close within 30 days at press time, according to Harkins.
5. Leverage Online Videos and Graphics
With his own research showing that 80% of sellers want their homes on YouTube, and with just three percent of agents actively using the site as a marketing tool, Kurt Thompson saw an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. A broker-associate with RE/MAX Property Promotions in Leominster, Thompson set up a YouTube channel to promote both active listings and successful sales. For example, a recent video headline read “SOLD! Call Kurt to list your home!”
“We’re physically recording walking tours of our properties and narrating the videos ourselves,” says Thompson, who has been a REALTOR® since 1997. “So far the responses to these efforts have been very favorable, particularly from our sellers.” Sellers also like how Thompson and his team pull social media, graphicrich online listing data, and even classified sites like Craigslist into the mix.
Using the RealBird application, for example, Thompson distributes listing data via automatic listing syndication which, in turn, posts those listings to blogs, social networking sites, and classified sites. He says his team has converted several sales using this approach.
“The biggest impact we’re having is on sellers who see that we’re using YouTube, virtual tours, and social media to engage with the market and get homes sold,” Thompson says. “They see that we’re staying ahead of the game when it comes to marketing properties.”
Harkins cautions agents and brokers not to be too quick to dive in every time a new application, software offering, or piece of equipment hits the market.
“Pick one tool and learn it well before moving onto the next opportunity,” says Harkins, who sees seminars and workshops as good learning opportunities for REALTORS®. “By using a calculated, planned approach, you’ll be able to get the most out of your time and money investment.”