Online Marketing in Real Estate – Fast Start to Stagnation
Changes in the Industry like no other
It can be argued that no other profession has been so affected by the internet as Real Estate. I count myself lucky to have been in the industry right when it “crossed over” into the Internet age. When I got into Real Estate the agents were the true gatekeepers of information. Every two weeks, a book of listings within your county was published, and every Realtor received one. Buyers were primarily reliant upon their agent to communicate new listings to them in a timely and efficient manner. The only other source of Real Estate information was the circular in the local newspaper, published once a week.
Enter the internet, which enabled forward-thinking brokers to start placing listings online. As early as 1996, buyers were using the internet to find homes, especially if they were relocating to new areas. The advent of the internet was amazing, as it transformed the industry in a few short years. I saw amazing results from advertising properties online, and it didn’t take much for me to make the decision to pursue a career in online marketing rather than Real Estate.
Unfortunately, while the accessibility of property listings has increased, the level of knowledge and online marketing has not grown with the times. In fact, from shopping for homes the past few months, I am convinced that the learning curve for online marketing among many Realtors has stagnated. When Realtor.com came on the scene in 1997, they sold to Realtors, using ploys such as: “the average listing on Realtor.com receives “x” views.” I felt like the lone ranger trying to explain to my fellow Realtors that a lot of the sales lines were bad data improperly applied. It showed me a lot about the lack of understanding of technology in that industry. Some have only recently accepted that the Internet is here to stay.
Here is my recent experience from the past few months of searching for a home. They say that doctors are the worst patients. It may also be true that former Realtors who are now online marketing veterans may be the worst sellers or buyers.
Bad Photos – are you kidding me?
In this day and age of inexpensive, high quality digital cameras, you post low resolution photos that are pixilated and hard to see? Worse yet, you show laziness buy simply uploading everything you took a picture of?
If I had my house on the market, I would be going ballistic on my Realtor, as there are no excuses for :
- Low res, pixilated photos
- Blurry pictures
- Pictures of toilets and mirrors
- Less than 3 pictures uploaded for any listing
- Cameras held at an angle, making everything look like it’s on a slope
- pictures of beds, which I am not buying
- No pictures of the items listed in the description. If there is a workshop – take a picture!
- no labeling of photos that have been uploaded
- No interior pictures!?!?
- Snow on the ground – and it’s late May
- The same three photos – repeated 2-3 times.
- Misspelled adjectives – “Emaculate Condition!” (really?)
Each one of these things is something that can easily turn off a buyer. Not taking the extra time to take a good picture, not considering presentation, and not labeling photos will negatively affect the buyer’s decision as they shop online. Not enough information is one of the worst problems an online listing can have.
Realtors and Responsibility
Pictures are meant to present the sellers home in the best light. Can a little thought be made about the selection and the quality of pictures that are used? The responsibility of the listing Realtor is to represent the seller. This includes the responsibility of the online listing. EVERY part of that online listing should be attractive, explanatory, and sensible. Anything less is a disservice to the seller, who pays your commission. I am very surprised that more sellers do not get online to check their listings. I think more Realtors would be fired if sellers checked their listings.
If the listing description highlights certain areas of the home, such as an in-law suite, over-sized garage, pond or other feature that can be a potential selling point – please, add a picture. There are so many homes that had excellent descriptions, but then no photos of any if the items described in the listing. The description is the first area we read, and it sets up the expectations, but then the lack of pictures is more than disappointing, it lessens the property.
When there are an almost unlimited number of pictures that can be uploaded, only loading two to three outdoor shots is inexcusable. If there is an in-ground pool, please add the picture. Someone may want to see it. If you have green or lavender bathroom toilets, you may want to go ahead and add it as well, just to keep expectations in line.
Anything less than 10 photos is a crime against the seller. For newer homes with more than 2000 square feet, 20 photos. Three or less is negligence. Negligence not only towards your seller, but to any buyer who is comparing properties.
Real Estate 2.0? When?
I am waiting for more social aspects of marketing to be implemented. While real estate was one of the earliest adopters of the internet (not without resistance) it has not grown out of a 90’s mentality of online marketing. The only things I can do are email the realtor, email the listing to a friend, or make a printable brochure. Some sites allow me to create lists of the properties I like with registration, which I liked, but I was still disappointed with the lack of flexibility in ranking, saving, excluding, and comparing properties.
I for one am waiting for the ability to add comments to listings. I would love nothing more than adding what I liked or didn’t like about homes, and I am sure that it would help to make some homes more attractive. I am also sure that the comments would also shock some sellers into reality when buyers can be directly honest about the home and the outrageous prices that some are asking for what they are offering.
Some comments I would have left:
The house photo is at a weird angle because of the mobile homes and cars on blocks in the neighbor’s yard.
This home advertises 2 full baths. The second bath is in the basement and has no walls.
The separate 3 car garage and workshop makes this house well worth the asking price.
The pool and the outdoor chimney are amazing, but the yard was too small for us.
At my previous company, we went to extraordinary lengths to create search friendly URL’s in order to have the database of homes spidered by the search engines. Ultimately, each property had its own short, unique URL, based on the MLS number. We celebrated. Simply searching by using the MLS code in Google would result in the property page showing up in the rankings. Unfortunately, the client had no idea how great an accomplishment this was, nor the implications. Now, the average URL that I cut and past from real estate websites are well over 50 characters . . . Check this out (if you can):
These tend to break. I send these URLs by email, Instant Messaging, and SMS. My wife and I share URL’s incessantly, as it seems we change criteria every week. Sometimes, our friends help out, but rarely does anyone use the “Send to a Friend” option. Could it be that they are not visible or too cumbersome? My opinion is that people do not use these forms because the policy is not clear about using email addresses gleaned from the website. Every send to a friend form that I viewed had no clear policy or explanation of how the emails would be kept, used, or maintained.
Having been in the real estate industry and cutting my teeth on real estate websites in the 90’, it frustrated me beyond belief to see the lackluster attempts at online marketing. I would dare say that the majority of buyers are looking online before they ever contact a Realtor. How a Realtor sells a property, the pictures they use, and the description they provide, are all keys to how well they will do their job. It’s a business card. It’s an opportunity for the Realtor and their seller to shine, yet most do not seem to take the time to learn the tools or create effective presentations.
Sellers Need to Demand More
Maybe it’s the area where I live, that many Realtors seem to uncomfortable with a digital camera and creating well-crafted, marketable property descriptions. I am sure that there are Realtors out there who take the time to build an amazing online profile of the houses they list. As a seller, I would demand nothing less than a professional listing with clear, hi-res pictures that present my home in the best possible light. Anything less would be unacceptable.
A friend pointed me to a Realtor’s blog where he has created the Bad MLS Photo of the Day. I like his style, and I am sure that he will have a never-ending source of content.