SAN FRANCISCO — It might be unseemly to say this at a real estate technology conference, but non-techie communication — or at least some old-school ways of doing business — is something that’s on the minds of a number of attendees at the annual Real Estate Connect conference, which began Tuesday.
For some, there’s a need to break through the nonstop online barrage, both in reaching out to the community and in managing their professional lives, they said. Think "breathing space," they said.
"Agents tell me they’re overloaded," said Paul Evans, president and CEO of reOneSpot.com, a developer of real estate tools in Duluth, Ga. "They want to use it, but they don’t know what to do first. They’re frustrated — they’re pulled to go here to do this, go there to buy that. "
So, when they’re not blogging or texting or tweeting, some are utilizing old-school strategies:
Ken Baris, president of Jordan Baris Realtors in West Orange, N.J., said he’s hit on a novel way to build loyalty and brand recognition — his company is helping them to appeal their property taxes.
His company invites groups — typically, the residents of a given subdivision — to a free meeting and brings in speakers to explain the requisite forms, the reasoning and the tactics that may be involved in getting a tax bill whittled down.
"We don’t necessarily want people to find us when they’re ready to buy or sell — we want them long before that," he said. "We tell them, if we lower your taxes, we increase your property values."
Ronna Brand, president of Brand Realty in Beverly Hills, Calif., knows that some in the industry dismiss the efficacy of mailing out postcards to potential clients, but she’s not buying it. It just has to be done right, she said.
"I have a condo listing and I just sent out postcards to 200 people in the building," she said. "I got three calls almost immediately." They were all substantial leads, she said.
The key, she said, is targeting the mailing, and the look of the cards. "I design them myself, but I’m not going to tell you what they look like," she said. "They’re distinctive."
Brand says she loves social media, but says agents who don’t cultivate clients who aren’t involved in it do so at their peril.
"You can’t ignore those people," she said. "They have money, too. I mix old school and new. I’m using every facet I can."
Christine M. Todd, executive director of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, has a constituency that cuts across age demographics — and one size doesn’t fit all when she’s trying to get their attention, she said.
"As an association executive, I’m struggling to find the best way to communicate with members. The average age (of our membership) is 52, but people are now getting into the industry who are under 30."
Although she sends out information on programs, association news, etc., by text-messaging and via Facebook and Twitter, she’s finding success with old-fashioned, face-to-face gatherings.
For younger association members, she holds events for her area’s Young Professionals Network from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays; these often are cookouts that are designed for networking and to introduce tech toys, she said.
"With social media, (these agents) want it for clients and customers, agent-to-agent, with their family and friends, but I’m not sure they want it from me."
It’s also a good way to cultivate their future interest in the association, she said. "We have to pass the baton to young professionals," she said.
For members in their 50s and older, she visits brokerage offices and does one-hour presentations about national issues and trends, and then drills down to local topics, she said. The subject matter may be "green" designations, for example, or the NAR’s credit union, she said.
"I get a tremendous response," she said. "They tell me they’re bombarded with information."
The economy is taking a toll on the ranks of real estate agents — no surprise there.
"But you’d be surprised — the numbers are down, but not as far as you’d think," said Valasie August, who manages a Long & Foster Realtors office in Fairfax, Va.
"They’ve dropped from 13,000 to 9,500 in our local association, but that’s still a lot of agents," she said.
The good news, she said, is who’s entering the field.
"I see people in their 20s coming in who want to run their own business," she said. "They bring a lot of tech skills, and bring in a different style. They’re not afraid to go to Meetups, not reticent about social media."
Who’s more likely to weather the recession best: big, mid-sized or small brokerages?
This from Dan Santa Maria of Santa Maria Realty in Tucson, Ariz.: "I’m betting on small brokerages like myself, with three people. I don’t think medium-sized offices, with 80 to 200 people, can survive," he said. "A lot of it is management and training. They can’t afford to give it what it takes in technology and marketing tools."
Want to stand out? Use a little humor in your marketing, said John Skrabec, broker-owner and director of marketing for LIVE Urban Real Estate in Denver, who was a presenter at a session titled, "10 Things Every Broker Must Know — And Act On — To Build Their Brand Online." His company targets a city-dwelling client who fancies himself or herself to be hip, he said.
"We poke a little fun at our industry," he said after the presentation. "We don’t make fun of our colleagues, but we poke fun at the public’s preconceptions of the industry, at things that seem old-fashioned, like when are brokers going to learn that buyers are online?"
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.