By J. Kyle Foster
Real estate agent Rosemary Buerger says she prefers to text her clients. She has two websites and a third in the making and one with its own app. She was an early adopter of Facebook, uses Instagram in her business as well as Pinterest for blogs, listings and decorating tips. She employs drone footage and 3-D video for clients to walk through a home and see neighborhoods.
“You name it, I do it,” Buerger said. “I think it’s important to put out as much as you can.”
Buerger of Coldwell Banker Advantage isn’t alone. Real estate agents are embracing digital media in everyday use and every way imaginable. More than 90 percent of real estate firms have a website, according to a 2017 study by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
Real estate is keeping up with the times – more than half of the world’s population now uses the internet, and nine in 10 American adults use the internet, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank based in Washington, D.C. According to the NAR study, 99 percent of home searches are done via a website – 72 percent of those via mobile device or app and 36 percent of searches are through an online video site.
Townsend Real Estate is on its third website vendor in six years – redefining and improving the company’s internet presence and agent capabilities in each rendition, said company vice president Vance Townsend.
Current vendor Delta Group, based in Ohio, gives each Townsend agent its own website and CRM or customer relationship management system, Townsend said. Everyone has a great email marketing platform, can print flyers from it and create email campaigns, he said.
Townsend Real Estate’s first contact with a potential client is probably still by phone, while Buerger says hers is most often through email. That’s changing though, Townsend said. “We get a lot of our inquiries that start through Google – finding our website and finding us,” he said.
Townsend uses a chat-bot computer program on its website to make it easy for visitors to contact the company and ask questions. The chat-bot box, personalized with a picture of a smiling brunette, pops up in a corner of the site when someone visits and offers the option of asking questions through a live chat.
Having the technological capabilities isn’t enough, Townsend said – someone has to respond quickly.
“It’s so important to get back to them within three to five minutes,” Townsend said. “The difference in five minutes and after five minutes, you have about a 75 percent chance” of conversion. “Everyone in the world wants something instant.”
Townsend’s father – owner and president Jimmy Townsend – gives all the digital credit to his son. “He really has embraced it and done a great job,” the elder Townsend said. “I’d like to take credit for it but the only credit I can take is that he’s my son. I’m very proud of him.”
Buerger, president-elect of Longleaf Pine Realtors, a regional trade association, says Facebook was the impetus for her and many in real estate to get tech savvy.
“I have millennial children and that’s where they were spending their time,” she said. “I knew the Internet wasn’t going away.”
Buerger made her first website for another agent in 2007. “In 2008, I became licensed (in real estate) and I knew I needed my own website and my own internet presence. Buerger’s third website will focus on “little-known areas I love.” She uses an area behind Stamper Road as an example. It rivals Haymount, Buerger said, and she wants to showcase it.
Video is becoming a vital medium among the Internet set – Buerger and Vance Townsend agree on that. Buerger likes 3-D video. Townsend isn’t a big fan. He prefers live video and videos put to music.
“A 3-D tour gives you the ability to walk through the house as if you were there in person,” Buerger said, explaining that more than pictures, a potential buyer can see actual wall space and kitchen and bedroom size. “You can see everything. People can see that this home looks exactly like it looks when they walk through the door.”
Townsend prefers basic video “because you can provide emotion to the listing” through music mostly. And, he said, “it’s easier to push that video out and get it in front of people on various platforms.”
Those platforms, he said, mainly include Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Facebook and YouTube are the most used social media platforms. As of January, according to Pew, 73 percent of U.S. adults say they use YouTube; 68 percent say they use Facebook.
Townsend Real Estate has a YouTube channel and several agents have channels as well. All agents know how to take video, add music to it and push it out, Townsend said. Videos don’t need to be perfect and live video works well too.
“It’s totally OK now. I tell everyone ‘don’t overthink it,’” Townsend said. “Video is so important – just do it and get it out there.” Photos, on the other hand need to be sharp and focused and perfect. “Taking poor photography is totally unacceptable.”
Social media is so important to real estate agents that many post those links at the top of their websites, making it the first thing visitors see. On Coldwell Banker Advantage’s main web site, links to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and the agency’s blog are at the top right next to the phone number – as prominent as the company name.
Townsend Real Estate outsources some of its social media to CirclePix – a real estate marketing automation company based in Springfield, Utah.
“I have learned more and more about what’s out there,” Townsend said. “Not only what we’re doing but the quality of how we want everything to look.” Everything from agent photos and biographies to social media posts, Townsend wants to look “first-class and upscale and modern.” And also personal, he said. Agents are encouraged to talk about themselves, their family life and hobbies as well as the work they do.
Even in the digital age, which some see as cold and impersonal, personality is still highly important, Buerger and Townsend say. Potential clients do their research before picking up a phone or writing an email or even chatting.
“Just being out there and being 100% me all the time, I think that’s very important in how people find me today,” Buerger said. “People want to work with people they like or think they will like.”