SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a difference between embracing social networking and squeezing it to death.

That’s been a recurrent message at Real Estate Connect, where tools and resources to improve the experience have been particularly visible.

Two examples from the conference:

"Real estate agents tell me they’re in social media, but they’re not doing any business with it," said Drew Burks, a San Diego broker who has founded, which offers an online course for using social media effectively.

The biggest mistake agents make when they attempt to use social media to develop new client relationships is they come on like bulldozers, he said.

They introduce themselves on social networking sites as real estate agents instead of people, Burks said.

"The first thing they say is, ‘I took a new listing today,’ or, ‘Hey, I just closed this many deals.’ "

The key word, he said, is engagement. Take the time to study a person’s profile before making the introduction, he said. "Spend time reading their past conversations, see if you can understand any struggles they’re having," he said.

Having gotten some grasp of who the person is, don’t just comment — ask a question, he said. That’s the first step toward building a relationship. aims to be a "Facebook for the Real Estate industry," according to company co-founder Andy Heller. Facebook is great, he says, but "it can be a vacuum for time because it’s too much fun."

His 5-month-old Atlanta-based company creates profile pages solely for people in various sectors of the real estate industry: agents, vendors, contractors, investors, etc. — so they can develop online relationships and find one another; the object is to strike deals or provide a stream of business, he said.

"It’s not that real estate agents are using social networking too much, that’s the wrong word," he said. "They’re just not doing it strategically."

Quick takes from Connect:

The cool tool of the moment, in Cathy Harrington’s view, is Kwkly, a mobile messaging service that passes texts from client leads to agents. Harington is vice president for New Media and Agent Resources for Prudential California Realty in Pleasanton, Calif.

"Many clients, particularly younger ones, don’t want to talk first, they want to text," Harrington said.

"Agents have 15 minutes to respond (to a Kwkly text inquiry sent through their brokerage)," she said. "We measure it."

No agent response in 15 minutes? The lead goes to another agent in the firm, she said.

If you can’t sell the house, rent it. That’s an increasingly common strategy, and one that real estate brokerages and multiple listing services should acknowledge, according to David Vivero, CEO and founder of, a rental  relationship management company to organize and advertise rental listings.

Vivero said real estate agents are expanding to include rental services because so many homeowners have suddenly become novice landlords when their homes fail to sell.

It’s also an opportunity for MLSs, he said, which have recently begun to add rental listings to for-sale properties.

Though he said sales agents who shift into rentals need to learn the different demographic characterics and needs of the two client groups, it’s a natural service to offer in this economic climate, he said.

"Rentals are emerging as an opportunity for agents, because they can stay in front of people who aren’t able to sell or buy now, but eventually they will," he said.

Two views of the economy:

It’s a great time to buy … foreclosures, said Ryan Fell, chief operating officer of, a foreclosure data company based in Goleta, Calif. He said the convergence of low interest rates, dropping prices and the bumper crop of bank-owned (REO) properties has created a perfect environment that might not be seen again.

"Undoubtedly, we will all look back and say it was a wonderful time to buy," he said. "People will say, ‘Gee, you bought in 2010? That must have been great.’ "

Fell said banks are finally improving their time lines on moving foreclosed properties to the market and finding buyers.

"Their problem, primarily, was being inundated and not having the resources to manage disposition of the homes," he said. But banks also risked glutting the market even further by listing all their REO holdings at once, he said.

"It’s been a difficult decisioning process," he said.

On the other hand, it’s not a good time … period. That’s from Mike Huff, broker-owner of Better Homes and Gardens Anderson Properties in Houston.

"I think in a best -case scenario, (nationally) we’re going to see the slowdown at least until next spring," Huff said. It may take 18 to 36 months for the market to gain real momentum, he said.

Consumer confidence "is the worst I’ve ever seen," said Huff, who grew up in the homebuilding business. He also blames a too-tight lending environment, not just for mortgages, but for the full spectrum of lending.

And the federal government is ignoring the situation, he said.

"They jumped through hoops to save the car industry, but they’re doing nothing for housing," Huff said.

Online neighborhood mapping technology and services are exploding, said Ann Baldinucci, who knows a thing or two about picking out a place to live, having moved 35 times in her life.

Baldinucci is founder of, which focuses on matching people with neighborhoods that have such attributes such as a high proportion of singles, a nearby farmer’s market, "trendiness," and other not-found-in-the-Census characteristics.

The moving process — and in turn, specialized mapping — is going to become increasingly important for Generation Y, the demographic now in their 20s that’s writing their own interpretation of the American Dream, she said.

For many in that group, she said, the dream is not going to be homeownership — it’s going to be flexibility: the ability to pick up and go.

Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.

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