SAN FRANCISCO — Real estate agents and brokers shouldn’t underestimate the power of two tools for getting their listings noticed — the humble digital photo and the mobile phone.
While it’s well established that multiple photos increase the likelihood that consumers will click on a listing, the message hasn’t hit home with some brokers and agents.
"’Photo not available’ is still a pretty common architectural style" at many listing sites, complained Brian Boero, a partner at 1000Watt Consulting who moderated a panel discussion today at Real Estate Connect San Francisco. "Is there any way we can get agents on the street to include multiple photos, either with a carrot or a stick?"
Lorna Borenstein, president of Move Inc., said the carrot remains the best approach. She said Realtor.com’s research shows photos are not only important for getting consumers to click on listings, but that consumers use them as one measure of an agent’s abilities.
"The biggest surprise is how important large, luminous photos are," Borenstein said. "Consumers tell us if they don’t see multiple photos on a listing, they doubt the credibility of the Realtor."
Realtor.com’s site redesign allows agents and brokers who are willing to pay an extra fee to post up to 25 photos with each listing — sized 140 percent larger than before. Listings can have up to four photos at no additional charge.
Borenstein said that when the entire Las Vegas MLS turned on the "showcase enhancements" for every broker, their traffic grew 41 percent compared to other MLSs using Realtor.com. "We think the value gets delivered, and that’s why 265,000 Realtors keep coming back for more," she said, when asked about the policy of charging for additional photos.
Zillow, which now has about 3 million listings, allows agents and brokers who feed the site listings to post unlimited photos, said president and co-founder Lloyd Frink.
Sami Inkinen, Trulia’s co-founder and chief operating officer, said that while multiple photos are great, it’s important to carefully select the primary photo for each listing.
Too often, Inkinen said, "the primary photo is the kitchen or bathroom. Make sure the best photo is the first one the consumer sees."
John Helm, chief executive officer of the apartment listing site MyNewPlace.com, said that about 15 percent of listings on the site don’t have photos.
"If you don’t have a photo, you’re only going to get 25 percent of the click-throughs" that a listing accompanied by photos does, Helm warned. Not only are high-quality photos important, Helm said, but the miniature "thumbnail" photos that accompany listings should be optimized for that size.
"The compression will change that photo around," Helm said.
And what if a home is trashed? Borenstein said don’t worry about it — put the pictures up for the consumer to see.
"I know this is difficult … but the fact is you really can’t fool the consumer," Borenstein said. "You won’t get a sale or you won’t get the listing" if you try. Put the pictures up, and "call it quaint, cozy — a real fixer upper (in a) great neighborhood. The consumer has so much power, you can’t do karate with them — it’s more like aikido. You have to move with them — how do you use the force for good?"
Boero queried the group on the significance of the "nomadic culture" that’s sprung up around Internet-enabled mobile phones and text messaging.
All of the panelists said their listing sites have tools that enable consumers to access information on the run — an ability that’s also important for Realtors in the field with clients, Borenstein said.
"For Realtors, to be able to have your (listings) data smartphone-accessible as you are travelling around with your clients is going to be critical for your business," she said.
Vikki Neal, vice president of online classifieds at FrontDoor.com, said the site will launch an iPhone application this week. "The thing to understand (about mobile) is to give consumers what they need, and what they want, and not necessarily everything on the Web site. Make it functional."
Trulia’s Inkinen agreed.
"You can’t just shrink (a site) down for the iPhone — (it must be) tailored to it," Inkinen said, adding that the site will demo new mobile capabilities today.
Inkinen said consumers use mobile applications differently than the Internet accessed over a computer. One dating service that allowed mobile access found it got most of its traffic in the wee hours of Saturday and Sunday morning, he said — after bars closed.
Trulia has found that most of the site’s iPhone traffic takes place on Sunday afternoons, Inkinen said.
Helm said many property managers that are looking to fill vacant apartments operate 24-hour call centers.
"People will call (on listings) off our Web site at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. and set up appointments to view property," Helm said. While apartment hunters used to spend an entire Saturday driving around looking at apartments, they now do more legwork online.
Boero asked how sites differentiate themselves for consumers, as many of the big listings sites offer several million listings.
Frink said consumers still come to Zillow for the site’s valuation estimates and to see comparable properties and recent sales.
Marty Frame, senior vice president and general manager of Cyberhomes.com — which offers similar valuation capabilities and a vast database of property information — said it’s important not to try to be all things to all people.
"As a site designer, you can’t afford to be a Swiss army knife — you’ll just overwhelm users," he said. At the same time, consumers can access more information with greater ease than ever, as the industry has evolved away from a lead-generation model.
"We used to treat all (Web surfers) as buyers or sellers, making them fill out forms" for full access to information at listing sites, Frame said of the industry in general. "We tried to hit them over the head and drive them into the cave and make a buyer or seller lead out of them."
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