When it comes to real estate, the old saying goes, there are only three things that matter: location, location, location. Today, it’s more like: information, information, information.
Whether it’s information about a particular property, the neighborhood or the real estate agents themselves, data plays a pivotal role in real estate – and technology plays a vital role in making that info accessible to consumers at home or on the road.
The modern house hunt now begins online, with more than 90 percent of homebuyers using the Web to view listings, according to the National Association of Realtors. For real estate agents, an online presence is therefore a must-have, explains Chad Curry, managing director of the Center for Realtor Technology at NAR. “With our members, mobile apps and social networking are becoming some of the main communications channels with their customers.”
Successful real estate agents are consummate networkers, and online networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can help agents connect with new and potential clients. And connect, they do.
In 2008, two-thirds of Realtors didn’t engage in any social media. By 2011, NAR found that 90 percent of brokers and 91 percent of agents were active on social platforms.
But simply having a Facebook or LinkedIn presence isn’t enough, says Jennifer DuBois, communications director at Move, Inc., a Campbell, Calif.-based tech company. Like a garden, a social media presence must be constantly tended with relevant information.
Using Move’s SocialBios tools, agents can feed information about a local market to their Facebook walls. Agents can view how they’re connected to their clients (and potential customers). Move has also incorporated the hot new social service Pinterest into its listing pages, so consumers can ‘pin’ up homes they like for side-by-side comparisons.
An app from real estate service Trulia allows agents to “check in” when they visit or show off a property and have that listing published to their online profile. This check-in gives consumers greater confidence that the agent has been active and knows the local market, says Ginger Wilcox, head of industry marketing for Trulia. The app also feeds real-time leads to agents’ smartphones, so they can be more responsive to customer inquiries.
Mobile phones are also changing the way consumers can search for homes when they’re away from theirs. Rather than drive around a neighborhood aimlessly seeking out “for sale” signs, you can pull up maps and turn-by-turn directions to all the available listings in the area using Zillow’s mobile application. With the app, you can filter your search by list prices so you’re not in over your head. You can also make contact with the listing agent or find nearby open houses – just not while you’re driving, please.
Brokers are getting into the act as well. An app from MobileRealtyApps dubbed HomeSpotter uses “augmented reality” to give agents and real estate firms a richer mobile experience to their customers. Using a phone’s broadband connection, the app overlays property details over a live feed from the phone’s camera. Thanks to the on-board GPS, the app can help consumers locate other listed properties in the area with a “radar view” and direct them to the next house.
In fact, digital and virtual marketing is rapidly overtaking print. According to a study conducted by marketing firm Imprev, real estate professionals used four times as many digital tools, such as iPad presentations and virtual tours, over the past 12 months than they did over the previous five years.
But fans of old-fashioned “for sale” signs should breathe easy: They’re also getting a technological makeover, NAR’s Curry says. More of them are being printed with QR codes, which can be scanned by smartphones to provide greater property details in virtual form.
Indeed, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see the death of the printed real estate sign, at least in the short term, Curry says. Why? Location, location, location.