By VICTOR LUND
Historically, in agent-consumer relationships the flow of information was one way — the agent would find the information for the client and send an e-mail message or a link.
You can differentiate yourself using a Virtual Office Web site (VOW) to provide many high-touch services.
With a VOW — a broker-operated Web site that allows consumers to access a wide range of real estate information after a registration process — the flow of information is bidirectional. VOWs can help create a conversation with consumers.
Think of your VOW in the same way you think of your Internet Data Exchange (IDX) Web site (IDX is a widely used online exchange system for sharing property information).
VOWs can provide richer information than IDX sites, such as listing history, tax data, and sold listings. VOWs allow agents to create a "conversation" with a customer using automated tools.
While registration requirements are considered by some to be the top "no-no" of a successful online strategy, access to this deeper level of listing information is the tradeoff for the consumer.
VOWs keep the real estate broker and agents at the center of the transaction by only allowing some multiple listing service data to be displayed to registered users.
With a VOW, you may invite potential clients to gain access to the same accurate, comprehensive and timely MLS information that Realtors use to provide their services.
This level of information includes everything in the MLS other than confidential information that protect the privacy and security of the seller. This depth of online information is only available through a VOW, and consumers can only access it through their Realtor.
Understanding this, the goal of a Realtor should be to offer access to this richer information when they first come in contact with a potential client — consider the VOW as the ultimate call to action in all communications.
Encourage consumers who make telephone inquiries to register on your VOW.
Anytime you answer the phone, or call a potential client, offer them access to your virtual office Web site and explain the benefits:
"By accessing the local MLS information through my virtual office Web site, you will be able to see the most accurate, comprehensive and timely property information — the same information that I review as your Realtor to find listings for buyers and to prepare home valuations."
Be sure to combine your offer of access to this property information with your service offering. Explain that you will always be on hand to answer any questions that they may have, schedule a showing, provide your opinion of the pricing relative to location, and support them in making an offer or marketing their home.
After you invite a consumer to access your VOW, request all contact information, including an email address, and offer to send a link to set up their profile. Offer assistance in configuring the search criteria, and tell the customer how to add more criteria or modify search parameters anytime.
VOWs are a great way to track specific for-sale properties. Buyers and sellers, regardless of their "move status," can view listing history to understand price changes, days on market and other information that will show trends in the marketing of a home.
Such VOW features enable agents to manage many more prospects because it gives consumers the information they want while the agent stays in control. Seeing a prospect’s search activity allows agents to react at the right time.
In today’s information-starved society, real estate information is attractive to everyone — VOWs can supply data to nosey neighbors and serious buyers alike.
Promote your VOW everywhere you can.
Agents and brokers use a variety of Web sites in the marketing of their services today. Make sure to offer registration to your virtual office Web site on every public Web site, blog, or post that you can.
To get started, send an e-mail to every registered client who is getting listing updates from your IDX Web site. Explain that deeper information is available on your Virtual Office Web site — information like pricing history, sold listings, tax information, lot dimensions. The differences in IDX data and VOW data will vary from market to market. Ask your MLS for a list of the differences.
Make sure to add language to all of your virtual tours as well. Note to visitors that your Virtual Office Web site is available to allow them to get more information about the property from the MLS database that is only available to Realtors and registered users.
If you syndicate your listings to third-party real estate Web sites like Realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow, Cyberhomes and others, make sure that you place information in the remarks that the most comprehensive, accurate and current information about this listing is available on your virtual office Web site. Serious potential clients on those listing sites will hopefully enroll in your VOW.
Today, there are also a variety of other online marketing options, including craigslist, blogs and social networks. If you are not using these tools in marketing your property today, get started now. At the very least, join Facebook and post your listings. When you do so, include a link to your VOW and explain that more detailed information, like pricing history, is available.
By now, you should have a sense on how to get started on the road to using your VOW to develop contacts into new customers. In the marketing of your services, there are a variety of other touch points where you can offer VOW access. Accessing all of the non-confidential information available from the MLS is a tremendously powerful offer to consumers.
Be sure to offer access to your VOW at every open house, every mixer, every time you door-knock, on every listing flier, on your business card — on everything.
Make it your goal to have a VOW available for new customer generation as soon as you possibly can. Brokers and agents who are quick to respond are likely to get the most registered users and generate the most word-of-mouth advertising as people begin talking about it to their friends and families.
Victor Lund is a founding partner for WAV Group, a real estate consulting company.