Here’s an idea (or five) whose time has come: Real estate professionals can’t wait around any longer to have “someone else” fix the market. Whether it’s government money or buyers coming off the sidelines, if we’re waiting for other people to turn around our business, we’re going to find that time is against us. No longer can we remain on the sidelines ourselves. It’s time to take action and make the changes that we’ve all know are long overdue in our business.
To get you started, here are five technology-driven production boosters that are easily within everyone’s reach.
- Get Smart. The latest study of REALTORS shows that 62% of them still don’t own a smartphone capable of checking email while they’re on the go. Ironically, far more buyers and sellers are checking their email on the go than their agents – and that has to stop. Companies must realize that it’s no longer an option to check email later. Getting “back” to a customer is a standard of performance that can easily be addressed – and it’s a huge competitive advantage if you can get back first. Studies show that more than 70% of buyers who inquire on property online will stick to the first agent who gets back to them. Not necessarily the best agent – but the first. And since virtually no agent is carrying their laptop around with them, the only option to address the need for speed is to get a Blackberry or other smart device. Cost isn’t even an issue: cellular companies are desperate for new business, so most smartphone upgrades are under $100 – with all sorts of rebates – and agents can write it off anyway. In addition, checking email during little snatches of free time during the day adds up to hours saved sitting in front of the laptop later trying to catch up on many customers who have already moved on.
- Be a social animal. Fifteen years ago, most REALTORS were convinced that the internet was a fad. Countless brokers stuck their heads in the sands and just waited for it all to blow over. They lost valuable time to take the lead and develop the skills to be competitive in online space. The same phenomenon is repeating itself with respect to social networking. The “it’s for kids attitude” is letting too many brokers and agents rationalize the decision not to jump into the medium and be a leader. Yet the numbers are already against them: The vast majority of Gen X and Gen Y buyers prefer to learn about new products and services through their social networks online: Friends referring friends continues to be the biggest source of listing appointments in real estate – but keeping in contact with your past sellers isn’t going to happen by postcards and newsletters any more. Smart professionals need to keep relationships alive in real time, all the time, by leveraging social networks to stay connected – not reconnect – with their clients who are the best source of repeat business. It’s just not an option to say you aren’t on Facebook or LinkedIn on a regular basis.
- The listing sheet is (still) pathetic. It’s not just bad marketing. It’s totally embarrassing to hand out a listing sheet created on an inkjet printer to someone you’re asking to make a three hundred thousand dollar purchase. Walk into a car dealership and every “flyer” for their inventory is a high quality production – and we’re talking about thirty-thousand dollar commodities. Now take that concept one step further and go online. Auto websites feature interactive exploration of their models, full-motion movies and voice narration explaining key features and benefits. They don’t leave it up to the consumer to guess the value of the offering: they come right out and tell us, show us and even let us play with their products. Even Zappos.com has more photos per pair of shoes for sale than too many real estate sites have for homes. This is perhaps the easiest productivity issue to fix – because most agents already have a camera that can take multiple photos and full motion video. If teenagers can fill up YouTube with thousands of videos a day, it’s high time that every listing online had at least twenty photos and three real video clips. Don’t think why you can’t do it: If your company has its own website, then you have the power. Now you just have to have the wisdom to figure out that selling online requires as close to a human experience as possible. And that means – like television – video isn’t a luxury marketing tool: it’s the minimum standard of performance for selling real estate online.
- Stop letting sellers to do the agent’s job. If video marketing is the easiest sales issue to fix, this one is the hardest. It’s time for brokers to decide just who is going to set the price of homes they become responsible to sell – and whose marketing plan to use. If sellers want to set the price and demand ineffective marketing activities, it’s time to keep that inventory off the market. You can use technology to support this change in sales approach by bringing your laptop to each presentation and connecting it to the web. Don’t prepare a pricing study – do one in real time with the seller. Show them the homes they are competing with and the recent sales (and homes that failed to sell). Today’s tech-savvy consumer requires evidence, not just advice. If you can show them – in real time – what’s happening with all of the factors of a sale, like the current stock market trend, the current mortgage trends, current and recent inventory trends – not on a printout, but on a computer screen – you’re going to let the evidence do the work for you. If, on the other hand, the only technology you’re using in a listing presentation is your printer, you’re going to find it harder to engage sellers who were checking their bank accounts and stock portfolios online just before you arrived with your canned presentation and sticky notes. Connect your message with the seller – through your connected laptop using a cellular modem – and take the art of listing to an entirely new level.
- Don’t be a drip. If you’re still “sending out” your marketing message sporadically by direct mail or even email blasts, you’re not really marketing. Brokers and agents need a consistent, persistent communications plan to keep the attention of consumers. Periodic advertising doesn’t maintain the consumer connection – but blogging does. Agents need to skip over the intermediate stage of moving their newsletters online to e-newsletters, and go directly to the always-on publication process that blogs make possible. Constantly telling the story of the local market is something that has to be done daily: Blogging makes it possible to report your recent sales, new developments in your marketplace and the story of real estate that may not be as gloomy as the national picture. It also creates an interactivity opportunity between the readers and the company, because consumers can respond to blog postings immediately. With so many organizations competing for the attention and money of the consumer, only those with persistent messaging can capture the revenue. Since most real estate consumers spend three to six months online dreaming about their next purchase or sale, real estate companies can use blogging to connect and guide that dreaming phase more effectively than trying to guess when to send your “just in time” email campaign. And with inboxes inundated with SPAM these days, the long-sought “drip” campaign of sending something every week or month is being counteracted by email filters – and consumers simply unsubscribing to your email messaging. Blogging also offers more interactive options – like graphics, video, podcasts, surveys and interactivity – that email campaigns just cannot duplicate. Stop sending out – and start pulling in – consumers with a consistent marketing blog.
As entrepreneurs, most real estate professionals know that their destiny is in their own hands. Waiting for a bailout of their business isn’t the formula for success. Adopting technology that already exists and has proven productivity results is the only way each agent can do their part to turn around the marketplace: one email, video, social network, interactive presentation and blog entry at a time.