Internet marketing and a strong system to respond to consumer inquiries will be crucial for real estate agents’ success in a slower housing market, industry executives said Thursday.
In an Inman News audio conference, “Real Estate Technology in a Slowing Market,” Tom Reddin, CEO of Real Estate at IAC Financial Services and Real Estate, and Colby Sambrotto, COO of ForSaleByOwner.com, shared insights about how consumers’ and agents’ use of technology and the Internet might change next year if the housing market indeed slows as many are predicting.
“Consumers are going to look for all tools possible to sell their homes,” said Reddin, who heads up the online real estate portal RealEstate.com. In a slower housing cycle, “the marketing of a home will become much more important,” he said, and quite different than in hot markets when homes for sale immediately attract multiple bids.
But marketing the home is just one piece. At the same time, agents will need to be immediately available to respond to buyers who are interested in the property, Reddin said, pointing out contact management tools, PDAs and cell phones as technology devices agents can use to keep themselves close to the deal.
Brokers too will want to think about implementing systems for handling consumer inquiries they get from the Internet. Some things that brokers could do, Reddin noted, include setting up a call center that immediately connects a consumer to the agent’s cell phone, or setting up a Web-to-phone system that sends the leads directly from the Internet to the agent’s cell phone.
“The key is that (the consumer) can’t reach the agent’s voicemail,” he said. “The agent has to be there to answer.”
And with an increased emphasis on marketing homes, home sellers will add more pressure to brokers and agents to give their listings more exposure online, said Sambrotto.
“We’re certainly sympathetic with brokers wanting to control where their listings end up,” said Sambrotto, referring to brokers’ quest to keep their listings close to the vest, while maintaining tight control over where they appear on the Web. “But I do think that the market is going to dictate that listings go out further.”
He predicts that more brokers will go after online distribution deals, such as the one between Realtor.com and AOL, in which listings get distributed beyond the traditional multiple listing service, the broker’s Web site and Realtor.com.
Sambrotto pointed to Realtor.com itself as a great resource for agents in marketing properties, but said it’s surprising to learn that individual agents generally don’t make a greater effort to increase their presence on the national real estate portal. A lot of great tools already exist for agents, he said, and it’s just a matter of them realizing they have to use them.
Asked what tools real estate agents must have going into the 2006 market, Sambrotto said a solid Web presence, a quality digital camera they know how to use, and a PDA with cell phone function so they can contact buyers as soon as they receive an e-mail on a listing.
Sambrotto’s company, ForSaleByOwner.com, is a national advertising site for home sellers who want to sell without an agent, and the company also has relationships with agents who want referrals. Industry insiders often point to services like this as ones that will not survive a market downturn, but Sambrotto said there is some data to support that the company will actually do well because of the desire to cut down on transaction costs.
“Detroit has become one of our hottest markets,” he said, as an example. While real estate sales have dipped in the city, ForSaleByOwner has done really well there.
Sambrotto and Reddin agreed that home sellers may be more open to experiment with new online avenues that didn’t exist in previous soft markets. Services such as craigslist.org, ForSaleByOwner.com and eBay have been around for less than a decade and the housing market has never slowed in that time.
“I think there will be trial for that – there will be curiosity and trial,” Reddin said of the more do-it-yourself-type services. But Reddin believes that a lot of consumers will look for the best full-service Realtor they can get and might be willing to pay more for that.
“Eighty-five percent of the market wants the full-service real estate agent,” he said.
Even so, full-service agents can’t ignore the power of the Internet in their own business. Companies like RealEstate.com, HouseValues and HomeGain, to name a few, can help generate online business for agents, and plenty of technology vendors offer applications to help manage consumer leads.
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