A California Realtor has jumped on the podcast bandwagon, using the popular audio technology to reach out to clients – and his first podcast is dedicated to disaster preparedness.

Berkeley, Calif., Realtor Ira Serkes’ podcasts can be downloaded from www.berkeleyhomes.com/podcasts/podcasts.html. The first podcast will give tips on how people can prepare for disasters – a timely subject in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Podcasts are audio files, usually MP3s, in talk-show format, that can be downloaded to any portable MP3 player, such as an iPod, or personal computer.

Interest in such offerings is just beginning in the real estate and other industries. In July, ByOwner.com, a for-sale-by-owner real estate site, joined the podcast party, offering podcasts for the FSBO industry. In June, Martopia, a national marketing firm for the mortgage and financial services, launched its Executive Insight Podcasts of corporate positioning messages.

Serkes hopes to capitalize on the growing market by offering a series of podcasts “for every aspect of real estate,” the Realtor said. He’s currently working on podcasts on “preparing your home for sale, negotiating, pricing, loans, making offers, inspections and title and escrow.”

In April, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 22 million Americans own an MP3 player and 29 percent of those had downloaded a podcast. And Forrester Research expects sustainable podcasting – listening to a podcast once a month or more – to reach 12.3 million households by 2010.

Clearly, podcasting is a fertile ground for the real estate industry to explore, much as some agents and brokers have adopted blogging.

“My original idea was to do a series on all aspects of home buying and selling,” said Serkes. “Then, watching what’s going on in New Orleans, I felt like I was watching this preview of San Francisco in the future. Clearly, we’ve got to do something so we’re prepared. We can’t rely on anyone else.”

The podcast offers information on all kinds of disasters, not just earthquakes, Serkes said. It deals with the nuts and bolts of emergency preparedness – literally.

“For instance, retrofitting a house to withstand earthquakes,” Serkes said. “People need to know that if they did it 10 years ago, it’s not up to current standards. After the Northridge earthquake in Southern California, it was house retrofits with round washers failed. Now the standard is to use square washers.”

Podcasts often involve an interview format and last around 15 minutes. Serkes’ disaster prep podcast is around half an hour long, and he dictated the whole thing himself. Serkes drew on the expertise he gathered when co-authoring the book “How to Buy a House in California.”

Serkes said because this was his first podcast, it took longer than it normally would to put together. Now that he’s set up, Serkes said once a given podcast is dictated, it would only take about 10 minutes for setup.

The steps are simple, Serkes said: Get a microphone; record into the computer; export the .wav file you just made as an MP3; upload it to your Web site.

The software needed to record the podcast can be downloaded from the Internet. One popular program, Audacity, is free; another popular program, available for a price, is GarageBand. You can also download out_lame software to convert .wav files to MP3s.

An August report by Forrester Research extolled the value of podcasting for marketing and advertising purposes.

Because MP3 files can be e-mailed around, podcasts that are purely in support of a brand or product can be spread virally,” the report said, referring to “viral marketing,” in which groups of private individuals spread the word about a service or product by e-mailing it to each other or talking it up.

“When you look at the sheer volume of devices capable of receiving and playing back podcasts, you see it’s an important way for real estate professionals to communicate with their customers,” said Aaron Burcell, director of marketing and communications at PodShow, one of the few podcasting firms in the country.

“There are a hundred million PCs out there that play MP3s, there are a hundred million MP3 players out there and 40 million iPods,” Burcell said.

“If you can create that kind of relationship, you can send them timely information,” Burcell said. “For example, you can provide information on a new house listing in the neighborhood. If the neighbors have a friend who’s looking, they can bring someone to the house before it’s shown. There are a lot of applications that are not purely informative but drive transactions.”

John Furrier, the founder of PodTech.net, a Silicon Valley-based site that features tech-oriented podcasts, agreed.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Furrier said of Serkes’ podcasting activities. “Podcasting allows anyone to express his or her voice to be heard on the Internet. More importantly, it allows for communication to distinct user group that creates visibility so that a community can develop. It is a great use of the technology to get the word out on topics without being a big media company.”

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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