Editor’s note: In this three-part report, Inman News catches up with a few of the latest developments to cross our desks. We examine a new home valuation and lead generation service, a site where sellers proactively look for buyers, and a new service among many that now offer a rich multimedia home-shopping experience. (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)
Wendy Brown, office leader for Prudential Pequot Properties in Westerly, R.I., uses the generic example of a man sitting at his computer in Nebraska at 2 a.m. looking for a house to describe the sometimes fickle nature of the Internet audience.
“If there is only one picture on the listing I probably am going to skip by it. If there are multiple pictures I’ll probably skip through it, then I’ll look for a virtual tour next. If (the listings) don’t have a virtual tour I’ll probably lose interest and move on to the next one,” she said.
For about a year, agents in her office have been using FloorplanOnline.com, a service that creates interactive floor plans, virtual tours and other marketing materials for property listings. It was an easy sell for Brown: “The very first time we used it we got an offer on a piece of property without (the buyers) coming to see the property,” Brown said. What the buyers did see was a floor plan and integrated virtual tour of the property on the Web.
The electronic floor plans, which can be created by agents or by appraisers who contract with FloorplanOnline, provide information about home layout and dimensions that photos cannot describe, she said.
The company is among a growing list of Internet technology firms that are offering rich multimedia content to make the digital home-shopping experience more real. Other companies, such as Icovia.com and Obeo.com, also offer online floor-plan tools to help prospective buyers better visualize and interact with properties even before their first visit.
“It helps when you are looking for homes. ‘Will my dining-room table fit? Can I get a king-sized bed in that bedroom.’ Individual pictures alone don’t give you that sense of a flow of the house. It has made a difference in how the consumer reacts to the information that’s available on the Internet,” Brown said. “As we’re moving more toward transparency in the real estate market we provide as much information as possible to the consumer.”
Brown said she encourages all of the 30 agents in her office to use the company’s marketing services with all of their listings. Agents can save money by taking their own photos and drawing and submitting their own floor-plan sketches to the company, she said, or they can pay more for a full-service marketing presentation.
FloorplanOnline offers online presentations for property listings that include company and agent branding, a large photo of the property, a floor plan with clickable camera icons that show photos taken in and around the house, detailed property information, agent contact information, and clickable buttons for an area map, flier or virtual tour set to music (called a “Walk-thru”), among other options.
Marlin Cone, senior vice president of sales and marketing for FloorplanOnline, said, “The whole concept of our program is to have something that is a ‘difference maker’ — that draws people into our customer’s Web site. Once they get there we know that they stay there longer because they have more reason to stay there. They see … key features of the property … (and) start virtually moving into the property in their minds. They have more acquaintance with the property and therefore become more emotionally attached,” he said.
Cone, a co-founder of the company, said he stumbled across the concept of online floor plans during a vacation in Copenhagen, Denmark, about two years ago. From his past experience in the real estate industry, Cone said he knew that buyers are always interested in square footage and floor plans.
The European company that created the concept was absorbed into a U.S. company and the marketing for Seattle-based FloorplanOnline launched in July 2005, Cone said. The company offers services in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The days of property ads that feature three lines of text and a single photo are gone, Cone said. “That is the past — that will not fly in the future.” The FloorplanOnline product is designed for ease of use by tech-savvy agents and for the “average 55-year-old” without a tech background alike, he said — agents can be heavily involved in creating the floor plans and virtual tours or they can hand off most of the work to FloorplanOnline.
Arthur Estavillo, broker-owner for ERA The Realty Group in Phoenix, Ariz., said his office introduced FloorplanOnline features to property listings about six months ago. “We started slow and now we have it to the point where we market all of our houses this way,” he said. His office, which has about 65 agents, also provides unique domain names to its sellers and prints personalized business cards for each listing that sellers can pass out to friends and neighbors.
It typically takes about 48 hours for the entire process of creating a FloorplanOnline presentation for listings, Estavillo said. Some agents choose to take their own photos and draw the floor plans themselves. FloorplanOnline offers Web-based editing tools so agents can make changes to the online listings presentation, he also said.
Cone said FloorplanOnline offers an opportunity for appraisers to diversify their business offerings. Their business (has been) pretty one-dimensional. This makes that business broader-based. With automated appraisal companies emerging, Cone said, “We see that as impacting the appraisal business in the future — they need to have something else in the wings.”
The company’s pricing is based on the square footage of properties and the amount of time it takes to prepare the floor plan and associated marketing materials. When appraisers are involved in measuring and sketching the floor plan “they get the lion’s share of the total because they’re making a trip to the property,” Cone said.
There are thousands of property listings created through FloorplanOnline, he said, and the company hosts the virtual tours on its server. As consumers and agents alike become more comfortable with online tools it is more likely that home sales will occur based on online marketing techniques, he said. “We think that’s where the market is headed.”
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