Ten Questions with Real Estate Expert Matthew Ferrara
By Dianna Kawell
Reposted with permission from WCR’s site.
Real estate is becoming an increasingly technology-driven industry. Every day, a typical REALTOR® depends heavily on her laptop, GPS and digital camera to get the job done. For what was long believed to be a face-to-face business, 88 percent of REALTORS® now report using e-mail as the preferred method of communicating with their clients.
However, REALTOR® Web sites may be the one neglected piece of the technology puzzle.
Perhaps, it is because agents see little tangible results from their personal Web sites. In the latest Member Profile from the National Association of REALTORS®, members reported on average just four inquiries generated by their Web sites over 12 months—accounting for just 3 percent of their overall business for that year.
In the past year, with members reporting a 14-percent drop in gross income from real estate, these already neglected Web sites have seemingly moved completely to the back burner. NAR is reporting a 20-percent drop in the dollar investment that REALTORS® are making in their Web sites from 2007 to 2008, with the number of REALTORS® who invested zero dollars in their Web sites increasing from 18 to 22 percent over the same period.
According to real estate educator and columnist Matthew Ferrara, this negligence of REALTOR® Web sites may not be a bad thing. We sat down with Matthew to get the scoop on what marketing features are essential to maximize a REALTOR®’s Web presence in a challenging economic climate.
eConnect: NAR is reporting a direct correlation between what a REALTOR® spends on her Web site and the amount of business generated from it. According to NAR, those real estate professionals who spent $1,000 to maintain their Web sites received an average of 14 inquiries from their site in 2008 (16 in 2007). Among those REALTORS® who invested less than $100 annually on site maintenance, 70 percent reported receiving five or less inquiries from their Web site. Does this indicate that REALTORS® should be investing more in their Web sites and perhaps turning to Web professionals more often for site updates and enhancements?
Matthew: Actually, I think the REALTORS® have been smart about understanding that this is not a good avenue for their marketing online. With a million REALTORS® out there, they can’t out-compete Realtor.com and their own brokers. Web sites are a hugely misunderstood application of technology. The REALTORS® have figured it out really well. To start with, the average REALTOR® is making $42,000 a year. They don’t have a lot of money to spend on Web sites. However, we still see them spending a lot on postcards and print, which we know have virtually no return. REALTORS® have figured out that most Web leads are coming from their broker’s Web presence. Those who are building their own Web sites are those who are making more than the national average.
The second thing that REALTORS® have learned is that the vast majority of the listings are not coming from the Web. They are coming from referrals and repeat business, and agents can take advantage of free social networking tools to reach those clients.There is no correlation with using Web sites and making a lot of business. You only need e-mail and a social networking page and your affiliate memberships like WCR to maintain referral business. For example, you could go to a FSBO Web site and search your town, and send an e-mail to those people and get better results than by creating your own Web site and waiting for people to find you among tens of thousands of real estate search results on Google.
eConnect: According to NAR research, REALTORS® are primarily using their personal Web sites for contact information, some educational materials for buyers and sellers and to showcase their own listings. About 90 percent include their own listings on their site. Only about 55 percent use virtual tours. Only 7 percent of REALTORS® have a regular blog. Is there more that REALTORS® should be doing to keep their Web sites up to date and relevant in their markets?
Matthew: Here’s the thing. When I look at NAR’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, virtual tours are the third most important thing that the clients want to see, after more listing photos and better listing descriptions. Agents say, “Virtual tours are slow and don’t look good.” I say, “When you’re buying the house, then you get to decide.” Always listen to your customers. Agents are putting all this community information on their sites. School reports and community info were low in what consumers want to see, according to NAR’s research. The buyers already know the schools and community and maps. Government sites? Nobody needs that. The consumer wants to see as many photos as you can get on there. That’s very important.
eConnect: As far as virtual tours, some of the products out there seem relatively inexpensive. Should REALTORS® be including virtual tours with all their listings?
Matthew: Virtual tours are dirt cheap. But it is free to just use your smart phone for video for the listings. Some of these listing Web sites require you to use a special product for virtual tours, but most now will take a simple link. So you could record a video and post it to Youtube.com, which will take a whole range of different formats. As far as virtual tour products, I prefer the ones that allow you to add narration or sound. Otherwise, you’re hoping that people can look at your silent movie and hope they just get it. Instead, take out your camera, ask another person hold the camera, and say “Hi, I’m Sally REALTOR®, and this is this, and that is that.”
eConnect: Would agents benefit from training in video production and photo editing software?
Matthew: I definitely think that video and digital photography are important skills. Martha Webb’s Certified Home Marketing Specialist course teaches some basics. Definitely, quality use of video and photos is a new emerging standard in real estate. Bad photos can scare people away. Don’t bother to enter a listing until you have the photos because people will just disregard it. Lighting, staging, scripting—these are all important things to plan out. One common mistake I see is that REALTORS® try to take photos that suck everything in. And sometimes you have to say, this is what is awesome about this living area and focus in on the fireplace or something. You have to have an eye for it and know what to pick, and that is a skill.
eConnect: What about the low number of REALTORS® (only 7 percent) who are regularly blogging. Is that another free tool that more agents should be utilizing?
Matthew: Not necessarily. That number may be in line with what is realistic. Most REALTORS® are hard working people, but they are not writers. The vast majority are not clever writers or in a position to write well. You can go to “REALTOR® Marketing” on Facebook, where NAR posts articles that are professionally written. You can easily share these without bothering with mail merges, newsletter mailing lists and so on. Just press the “Share” button in Facebook. It’s easy and free. Or go on LinkedIn to the area where people are posting questions and construct an intelligent and thoughtful 10-sentence answer to someone’s question. One in 10 REALTORS® would be able to write a blog. Nine out of 10 should just republish what’s already out there. Spread the word, just don’t write the word. Concentrate on quality distribution of information.
eConnect: NAR’s Member Profile research indicates that REALTORS® on average spent about $240 last year on maintaining their Web sites (a 20-percent drop from 2007). What do you think is a reasonable amount for an agent to spend annually on site maintenance?
Matthew: If you’re really doing a Web site, you should be spending a lot more than that. If they are doing a Web site, I say $1,500 or more a month when you factor in pay per click and other advertising. And what about the time that you or your assistant are investing in all the updates? You have to factor in all that work. Can someone be successful with Internet marketing by spending just $200? Certainly. It doesn’t cost anything to participate in the Q&A on LinkedIn and social networking. But not a website.
eConnect: Six in 10 REALTORS® reported having a Web site (90 percent report that their firm has a company Web site). Is there a need, in your opinion, for all REALTORS® to have their own Web site, if their firm has a company site?
Matthew: Having a web site is meaningless. For most agents, having a quality page on REALTOR.com or their franchise site is more useful. The best way to reach the people is through these free social networking pages, blogs and e-mail. If I type in my own name on Google, my LinkedIn profile and blog, which are both free, are in the top search results. Most agents have figured out, if their firm has a marketing budget bigger than their marketing budget, the agent has wisely said, “I’ll just let my broker send me the leads.” After all, any fee from the broker is still lower than SEO, pay per click and all of that. An agent can send an e-newsletter or use Facebook. All that is proactive stuff. Having a web site is reactive. NAR’s research illustrates that agents who are spending $1,000 or more on their Web sites are only getting 10 percent of their business from that. For most agents, it’s just not worth it.
eConnect: Do you know of some top-notch REALTOR® Web sites that really accomplish all the areas that REALTORS® need to in order to optimize their Web presence?
Matthew: As far as agent web sites go, Kevin Tomlinson is doing great with his site. The listings include maps, floorplans, a lot of nice photos and video. If you look at the bottom of the page, he has a lot of keywords that will drive his search engine optimization. Also, at the bottom you see he has a marketing firm doing the site for him. And you know it’s not for only $200 a year! On the homepage, he has his blog, links to Facebook and Twitter and awesome-looking photos. There’s a nice, up-to-date photo of him right up front, so it’s personable. Yes, he has an e-newsletter and YouTube channel. The good thing about this site is that it touches all personality types, whether you are a map person, search person, quick search person, someone who just wants to browse photos and so on.
eConnect: It seems many REALTOR® sites have out-of-date information or old trends, like the lengthy intro animations with the “skip intro” link. Yet, REALTORS® do not seem to want to invest in regular updates to their sites’ look and feel. Are you saying that, for agents who don’t have time to update their sites, no Web site is better than an out-of-date site?
Matthew: That’s right. If you don’t have time to keep an up-to-date Web site, then for any free personal pages you may have on WCR.org and other sites, just use a link to your Facebook page instead of building a web site. That’s what a REALTOR® can easily update on a regular basis. They are not going to maintain their own web pages. But Facebook is easy to update, and I would tell most agents to link to that. Of course if you are a broker, you need a web site. That is critical for a company.
eConnect: According to NAR’s research, only 35 percent of REALTORS® are using social networking sites for business. The numbers are highest among the younger agents. Seventy-one percent of agents under 30 are using social networking compared to 32 percent of agents 50 to 59 years old. What advice would you give to the more seasoned REALTORS® about joining social networks?
Matthew: It’s important to keep in mind that, although the more seasoned REALTORS® were not into social networking with the early adopters, these Baby Boomers are now the fastest growing demographic embracing the social networking sites. It’s okay if you weren’t on there early, but most REALTORS® need to get on there now. That doesn’t mean that they have to use every site out there. Just start with one or two social networking sites. I’ve had agents tell me, “my clients have invited me to join them on Facebook. I don’t know if I should do that.” If your customers are inviting you to join Facebook, then definitely do it. Always listen to the customer.
Dianna Kawell is editor of Women’s Council’s eConnect e-newsletter. She specializes in Web content development for associations and small businesses.